The 6 words that could make you thousands

There are some conversations that aren't ever easy. Thinking about it makes me feel queasy, and I desperately search for ways to avoid it. I seek out the quickest exit, even if it costs me thousands of dollars to take it.

In fact, over the past five years, this dread has probably cost me about $100,000, something my super and my mortgage have noticed.

It’s the salary negotiation.

I’ve been in the workforce since I was 16, I’ve got more than 20 years of professional experience behind me and I’ve led teams at the forefront of what we do. My staff have gone on to jobs with salaries two or three times what I earn, but I still manage to negotiate my way to lower salaries. It’s a remarkable incompetence in an otherwise highly competent track-record, and it’s a superannuation disaster.

The problem is when an employer or potential employer comes to me asking me to do more for less, especially if I happen to be working for a good cause, I generally agree. The employer tells me they can only afford to pay $X, and I nod sympathetically and accept a salary well below what I ought to be paid, and what colleagues with comparable responsibilities are paid.

I’ve been paid very well in organisations with transparent pay scales, but when it gets to negotiating for myself, I’m willing to accept the idea that I might not be worth that much, and once it’s too late, I reflect on what an idiot I’ve been. But, not this time. This time I’ve taken advice from people who negotiate for a living and here it is.

"In any negotiation, the one who first gives a number is the loser."

-Kenneth Eade

Three tips for negotiation:

1. Silence is golden

In a conversation we tend to feel silence is uncomfortable so we rush to fill it. That means we can be tempted to say things we shouldn’t – like agree to a salary that’s too low. Say nothing, give yourself time to think. So, what if it feels awkward, sacrificing tens of thousands of dollars a year just so things don’t feel awkward is not the smart move. Zip the lip. Schtum.

2. Ok, so eventually you might give in

The urge to say something might overwhelm you. The internal dialogue justifying why you’d accept the salary on the table will start. It’s interesting work, it’s worthwhile, maybe my experience isn’t as relevant in this particular role, it’s an easier job than I’ve had before, I’ll learn a lot… Don’t agree. Just say, “I don’t think we’re there yet”. Magic words. "Thanks for that, I don’t think we’re there yet, I’ll come back to you." Don’t give an answer in the first conversation. Think, write it down, get some advice, come back later.

3. Set a bottom line

You know what you’ve been paid before. You know you’re better at what you do now than you were the last time you negotiated pay. Think of someone with similar skills to yours who you know and respect. What salary do you think they should or could ask for if they were going for the same job? That’s your bottom line. Surprised? I was. I gave my friends and colleagues at least 10% more than I would have given myself.

My “ah-ha moment” was imagining I was negotiating for someone who’d done some of the same jobs as I have. In one case I estimated a former colleague should be asking for 33% more than I would have asked for myself! That’s a lot of super I could be paying and a lot of years without financial stress, if I can just choose to be comfortable with silence for my next most dreaded meeting.

So go ahead and ask the question "Can I get a pay rise?"