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Show me the money

How to avoid toxic salary negotiations



As many of you know I don’t love the idea that we must negotiate for what we want. I think that negotiation is a bulldozer of a tool. We negotiate when we can’t truly collaborate.


But many people still come to me for advice on negotiating for raises and promotions.


So let’s lay out some good boundaries for this type of negotiation. To do that, we must first ask some questions:


1.     Why are you asking for a raise?


Please do not tell me it’s because you heard on a podcast that you should be earning what you are worth.


Yes….we should all be earning what we are worth but there is a clear between discovering the value of a job and securing the requisite pay.


And…… your personal worth has zero to do with your current role and salary. You may be a proven industry leader with great ideas, strong work ethic and excellent potential. But if you accepted an entry level role … the disparity between your market value as an employee and the value of the current role is not solved by asking for a raise.


2.     Have you been told no recently?


If you have not been told no, you are not negotiating (yet). You are asking. Bring the right energy to the conversation.



Negotiation is relevant when the market value of your current role is greater than you are being paid. Potential does not matter. This market value must also be an apples to apples comparison of roles (size of company, team, location, etc.) Know exactly who is getting paid more. JC Penny Directors do not earn what Amazon Directors earn.


You must also be consistently performing at or above shared expectations for a reasonable period of time.


Now that we are clear on the fundamentals of clean negotiation, we can engage.


When these facts are rock solid and other party decides not honor your request

there are a couple of reasons why:


1.     You are not performing well in their opinion or it’s not an accurate role/value comparison

a.     STOP negotiating and seek to understand the discrepancies. You must have a shared understanding to move forward.

2.     There just isn’t enough money

a.     Seek to understand the details and negotiate for increases tied to measurable milestones in financial improvement. This is collaboration towards a shared goal of financial stability.


If you cannot arrive at consensus or a collaborative path forward, you may not share the same values as the organization you work for.


If this is the case, negotiating more aggressively only exacerbates the situation. It may be time to revisit your ‘why’ and assess if this role or company is the best fit for your goals.


Now…..I would be remiss if I did not ‘lean in’ a little bit. I was inspired by Sheryl Sanberg’s account of her salary negotiation with Facebook. She said to Mark Zuckerberg: “This is the only time you and I will ever be on opposite sides of the table.” In other words, “I am clear that we’re on the same team here.”


She persuaded Mark to honor her salary request by negotiating with intent and reason. I think it was critical that she emphasized they were on the same team. For her, this negotiation was indeed a form of collaboration and she engaged gracefully.


Salary negotiations are a unique experience for women. This article by HBR is insightful and highlights the complexities of gender dynamics in negotiations:



So, to engage in fruitful negotiations, it’s important to pay attention to when the conversation become toxic. If it starts to feel like a battle, something is amiss and you must put down the hammer.





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