10 Phrases to Avoid During Salary Negotiation

The question may come up at the end of a successful interview. You may need to bridge the topic with a longstanding employer. Whenever and for whatever reason, at some point you will need to negotiate your salary.

During that negotiation, what you don’t say can be as important as what you do say. Here are ten phrases to avoid if you want to reach a dream offer.

1. I accept [first offer]

Employers rarely present their highest offer first. This tactic takes advantage of the anchoring effect, our tendency to overplay an initial bid or piece of information. By accepting the first offer, you skip the negotiations and likely shortchange yourself.

2. The least I’d be willing to take is…

This phrase also produces an anchoring effect—only you’ve anchored the low bid. Instead, tender an offer at the higher end of your desired salary range. Even if you settle on less, you’ll likely receive more than your low end.

3. I’m currently making…

Your current salary is irrelevant. What matters is the value your skills and experience bring to this company. If asked, politely say you’d rather not disclose that information.

4. I need it for a house/wedding/student loans/etc.

This information is equally irrelevant. Again, your professional value and the appropriate compensation for that value are what matter.

5. I don’t know.

Research beforehand, and know what a competitive salary looks like. Know your worth in the marketplace. Know the pay scale for your profession and position. Know which benefits are indispensable and which are desirable.

What if you get blindsided by an unusual question? Phrase it like, “I’ll research that and get back to you.” This shows an active and growth mindset, rather than a passive acceptance of your limits.

It’s also okay to ask for more information.

6. Well, so-and-so makes such-and-such

Comparing yourself to others won’t produce the desired results. It comes off as juvenile and may have the employer questioning how you got the information.

You want your skills to speak for themselves and your salary range to be based on a competitive analysis. This speaks of professionalism, and you should receive an offer to match.

7. I’m sorry but…

You’ll want to avoid negative and self-defeating phrases. In this case, apologizing for the request sounds fickle, as though you don’t believe you deserve it.

But you do. To make that evident, your demeanor and phrasing should brim with confidence and positivity. Though, don’t take it too far and become arrogant. It’s all about the Goldilocks principle.

8. No

You can disagree with an offer and tender another one, but avoid the hard no. Rephrase to demonstrate your flexibility and willingness to negotiate.

For example, the employer may not be able to provide your desired salary. Instead of no, see if you can secure additional work-life benefits, such as more vacation time, remote work options, or even a better job title. Many non-traditional perks that can sweeten a deal.

9. Is that all?

You may think it, but don’t say it. This type of phrasing is dismissive and insulting. It shuts down effective communication and stymies any chance of a mutually beneficial agreement. If you can’t reach that agreement, decline politely.

10. Can we discuss it later?

Nobody likes to discuss salary, so it may be tempting to procrastinate. Not a great idea. Avoiding the conversation can make you look ill-prepared. And if you wait until you’re hired, you lose negotiating power. Best to prepare to lay as much groundwork as you can this round.

A good negotiation is a strong foundation

As you can see, every phrase to avoid during salary negotiations comes with a correlated action to take. Be confident and positive. Do preparatory research. Show your value to the company. And remember that money is only part of the equation.

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