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Phrases You Should Never Use During Job Offer Salary Negotiation

Avoid these phrases during job offer salary negotiation and it’ll be smooth sailing. [TWEET]

Life lessons. As you're growing up, there are a few of them that you learn along the way --  sometimes the hard way. For example, let’s say you’re meeting your new girlfriend’s family for the first time over dinner. When her military dad asks what you do for work, never say, “Although I’m pretty broke, I think I’m going to give this punk band thing a few more years… I was never good at following rules anyway. Dude.” When her older brother asks how the two of you met, never say, “Of all the women I’ve met on Tinder this month, she lives the closest.” And when her mom offers you a slice of lasagna made from a recipe passed down through 5 generations, never say, “No thanks, I’m not hungry.”

So now it’s a few years later and you’ve managed to leave the band behind, marry your sweetheart, and you find yourself interviewing for your dream job as the digital marketing director for the hottest new celebrity chef. You find yourself face-to-face not with a four star general, but with the equally tough head of human resources, and they ask you the toughest question yet:

“So… what were you thinking in terms of salary?”

Figuring out how to negotiate salary is a life lesson that is not often taught in school or on the job. While there are several tactics you can employ, from using silence to “anchoring,” here are a few phrases you should never use when negotiating your salary.

“I accept.” (your initial offer)

The first and perhaps most common salary negotiation mistake is not negotiating at all. This happens when someone makes an offer and you immediately accept it without any questions, conditions, or counter. Most companies don’t present their final and highest offer right off the bat, so there’s almost always room to ask for more.

“I need to be able to move into the city / get a better place / pay for my wedding.”

So, you’re a recent grad and see a new job as your ticket to moving out from your parent’s place in the suburbs and into the big city? Or you want your promotion to pay for a bigger place, your wedding, your divorce, your BMW, or your kid’s braces? Think again.

Look, everyone wants to live in a great home, pay off all their bills, and live a comfortable life, but it’s not the company’s responsibility to make you happy. Yes, businesses need to account for things like cost of living adjustments – that move from Minneapolis to Manhattan isn’t going to be cheap – and suffering through a 90 minute commute each way isn’t fun for anyone.

But when learning how to negotiate a salary, remember the reason you deserve a competitive salary or a big raise isn’t about you, it’s about them. Are you the best salesperson at landing international clients? Did you optimize a process that cut 10 hours of work and saved $80,000 a month? Are you so good at your job that no one else in the building can do it? THAT is why the company is paying you, not because you want to upgrade to the granite -- no make that quartz -- counter-tops.

“Well I know that Larry makes $75,000 and I’ve been here longer than he has and he spends most of the day playing Candy Crush.”

So I’m actually going to let the first part slide. Did you somehow find out that Larry is making $75k? Good. As long as you didn’t illegally hack into HR’s computers, doing competitive analysis of market rates is a skill you need to develop. What’s not ok, is whining that you have seniority (doesn’t mean you’re better at your job) or throwing a co-worker under the bus. Again, prove that you’re worth it.

“I’m sorry if the timing is bad, and I know you probably don’t have room in the budget, but…”

Confidence is key. While negotiating can be stressful for introverts, those that tend to avoid conflict, and virtually anyone that gets nervous standing up for themselves, do your best to avoid negative phrases. The best way to learn how to negotiate a salary and gain confidence is role-playing the conversation with a friend or family member until it feels natural. In her book, Knowing Your Value, Mika Brzezinski cautions against using this self-defeating language. Not only does this kill your chances, but you’ve actually put the words in their mouth to say no… all they have to do is repeat back, “Actually, the timing is bad and there is no room in the budget.” Instead, view this as a business transaction … arm yourself with data, ask for what you deserve, and muster up the confidence to stand up for yourself in this crucial moment… and then you can go back to quietly reading with your cat.

“No. That offer is insulting.”

Let’s take this in two parts. During your discussion, keep the conversation going and avoid a straight-up “No.” That’s why this is called a salary negotiation. If you’re looking for $80,000 and they say the max they can do is $75,000, don't say no, see if they can add in an extra week vacation or bump your title from Director to Senior Director. If a new company says they can’t raise their base salary, ask about a signing bonus or more money to help with your move. And if no amount of negotiation gets you where you need to be, decline gracefully. Saying that you’re insulted is never going to get them to meet your demands, and burning bridges during job offer salary negotiation is going to come back to haunt you in the long run.


Sometimes in life, learning what not to say is important as what to say. So review these tips, be polite, and by all means, grab a slice of your mother-in-law’s lasagna.

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