7 Things You Should Never Say in a Salary Negotiation (and What to Say Instead)

Negotiating your salary may feel scary but it’s actually pretty straightforward. The best thing you can do is map out what you’ll say, anticipate all the ways they could react, and then practice how you’ll respond.  Post-COVID, this is a time of transition for everyone and just as you’re figuring out what you can get, they’re also figuring out what they can give. So assert your value but do it in a way that is empathetic. Tell them what you want but also speak to the greater good and the company’s goals. 

Negotiations are not a one-size-fits all, however there is a framework you can follow. And while there’s no one “right” way to do it, there are definitely wrong ways. The following are some things NOT to say and what you can say instead. 

1.  “Okay, sounds good!”

While you may be tempted to accept their first offer, I can guarantee that you’re leaving money on the table because that’s exactly what it is – a first offer. Since we tend to be socialized to be “nice” and “accommodating”, I understand the fear of appearing “ungrateful” and potentially jeopardizing the relationship. However, they expect you to negotiate. The number they present has been calculated with that in mind. 

What to say instead: “X is a great starting point. I was hoping for something closer to Y. What can we figure out together to get us closer to that number?”

2.  “Is there room to negotiate?”

Always assume there’s room to negotiate and so presenting it as a question, is a surefire way to get a no. If you do ask questions, make sure they’re open-ended so you can get as much information as possible. Knowledge is power and having more context from them, allows you to present creative suggestions to getting to an agreement that everyone can feel good about. 

What to say instead: “In the market research I did, I saw that a typical rate for someone in my position is between X-Y. Since I’m a top performer, I was hoping for something close to Y.”

3.  “I hate to ask for more but…” 

Real talk: would a mediocre white man say this? Anytime you’re feeling insecure, do a gut check. Is there a reason you feel this way? Is it because of how you’ve been socialized? However, I want to offer this with a warning. While channeling the mindset of a man can give you the extra boost of confidence you may need, be careful about negotiating like one. The reality is that women, and particularly women of color, are held to a double standard. When we assert ourselves, we may be looked at as “aggressive” so unfortunately, we have to walk a tightrope of acknowledging your value but doing it in a way that is empathetic. Telling them what you want but also speaking to the greater good and the company’s goals. 

What to say instead: “I definitely understand budgeting issues and I want to be as flexible as possible. Is there a way we can be creative to get us closer to what I’ve asked for?”


4.  “Are you really not able to budge?”

Sometimes there’s simply not more money they can give you. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things you can get. Once you’ve gone as far as you can with your salary, navigate the conversation to full-compensation, in other words, things that bring you value but don’t cost them much, such as a title change, continued flexibility, or compensation for your commute. It’s important to already have in mind what you want though be ready for a no and prepare how you’ll respond. In particular, try to position it as a benefit to the business; for example, asking for career development. 

What to say instead: “Since we’re not able to get to my original ask, I’d like to discuss full-compensation. For example…”


5.  “I need this money to pay for….” or “I can’t afford…”

Unless you have a close relationship with the person you’re negotiating with, it’s better to keep your personal life out of a negotiation. Your expenses are not their problem and in fact, saying you can’t afford something kind of makes it seem like you’re not in command of your own finances. 

What to say instead: “When is the next time that we can discuss this?  I’d love to get something on the calendar to figure out if what I’m doing meets your measure of success.”

6.  “But I worked hard!”

Working hard is a given and so asking to be rewarded for something you’re expected to do is tacky. A better case to make is how your hard work contributed to the bottom line. Depending on your role, this might be easier for some people than others (for example, sales.) Think about how you may have contributed to the company’s culture; for example, maybe you mentored someone on your team. Or negotiated discounts with vendors. Or created a system to better communicate or run more efficient meetings. It’s on you to keep track of this all year, quantifying it as best as you can. And don’t forget to bring positive feedback you received! Those are testimonials that can help strengthen your case. If you can’t get a yes, the least you can do is 

What to say instead: “What would it take to adjust my salary at target points as opposed to annual reviews?”


7.  “I deserve it.”

You may deserve more money but telling your boss that makes you look entitled. As personal as  a negotiation can feel, there are multiple factors that go into how compensation is calculated. If you keep getting a no, the best thing you can do is get clarity on how pay is determined and a larger plan on what growth looks like at the company.  

What to say instead: “Are you able to share more information into how pay is determined? I want to make sure I’m on track.”



8.  “I currently earn…”

If you’re asked about your current salary, this question may actually be illegal depending on where you live. (Read more about the Salary History Ban here.) The rationale is that marginalized groups make less money at the onset of their careers and so if every subsequent salary is based on the one before it, the wage gap will only compound and we will never catch up. This is why if you’re applying for a new job, you should never use your current salary as the basis for how you calculate how much you ask for next. First of all, you could be underpaid. Second of all, the job you were initially hired for may have evolved into something quite different. What you ask for now, needs to be specifically calculated in relation to this new company and the market value of the job – including all the new skills and experiences you’re bringing with you. Either way, don’t lie. You can keep things abstract or tell them the truth, just make sure to pivot quickly to what you want to make, not what you used to make.

What to say instead: “I make in the low five-figures..” and if they press you: “My boss prefers that I keep the number confidential.”

At the end of the day, the most important thing to do is ask.

Ready to get paid what you deserve? Check out our Salary Negotiation 101 course. Folks who enroll in this course on average receive a $15,000 pay bump.

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