Why People Don’t Negotiate

Ketan Anjaria

After over $1.3M in salary negotiations we’ve learned a few things about why people don’t negotiate. Our median increase is $17,500 for clients and our highest percentage increase is 42%.

Much of this knowledge comes from personally doing over a 100 salary negotiations for clients. While it’s somewhat anecdotal, I did see some patterns emerge.

1. They don't believe they can

Often a company will say there’s no room to negotiate and employees take that at face value. In the modern era there’s an imbalance with how most people view employers, and they don’t believe they are able to affect change.

2. Lack of confidence/ self-worth

People often struggle with self esteem, anxiety, and confidence. Advocating for yourself, whether emotionally or professionally, is a skill just like any other that anyone can learn.

A negative self image, worry about being judged, or fear of what could go wrong often prevents people from even engaging in negotiations. We saw this across all genders.

3. Fear of offer rescinded

There’s a terrible myth that if you negotiate incorrectly, a company will rescind an offer.

That’s flat out wrong. A good company might not be able to meet your salary, but rescinding an offer is the nuclear option that we rarely see. Not a single client of ours had an offer rescinded because of negotiation.

Companies do rescind offers for other reasons: the position is no longer available, out of budget, or re-orgs, but these are very rare.

4. Wanting to be fair

We saw this with women more than men. Negotiating against yourself because of a sense of fairness is common. This would result in people making assumptions on what salary was “right” for the job vs what they should negotiate for. Often clients would want to make sure they are doing right by the company and the offer had a fair market value even if it was less than their goals.

5. Under leveling

This was a very common tactic that we saw more with women than men.

Companies have levels of pay -- for example L1 to L10 -- and each level has a higher range for salary, comp, and equity.

Way too often companies would under level a female candidate vs a male one, giving the women an unfair disadvantage before negotiation even starts.

While some men are believed to be an L4, often female clients had to fight to even keep an L3 or would have to be twice as good to get the same level as a man.

This was deeply unfair, and we saw this at big companies and small.

Under leveling doesn’t have to be level-based either. It can be title-based where a man would get a higher title or not have to vouch for the title they wanted while women often had to argue for titles they already had at previous companies.

6. Returning to work/ motherhood

Because the burden of child raising falls more often to women, many women take time off for work. This creates “gaps” in the resume where women then have to claw their way back up after taking time off.

Men could face this as well for extended absences, but we saw this unfair negotiation response from many companies.

Sadly someone taking a “sabbatical” was often viewed with higher regard than a mother taking time off to raise kids.

This starts negotiations at a lower level and many female clients felt because they were out of the workforce for multiple years they didn’t have the ability to negotiate.

7. Negotiating for the wrong thing

When we did see people negotiate, it’s often for small things, like flexible work schedules, days off, or working from home.

While we advocate for everyone to create the work life that’s best for them, dollar for dollar it’s much more effective to negotiate cash vs benefits.

Often PTO, benefits, and schedule rules are set at the company or position level and companies have less room for individual adjustments. It’s only at the higher director and executive levels that you can successfully negotiate for these non-salary items.

It’s not all grim though. We saw that working with a coach was one of the best ways to increase your salary regardless of gender. Along with arming yourself with market salary knowledge, a great resume, and personal pitch, all these pitfalls can be avoided.


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