Career Growth
April 9, 2024

Words and Phrases to Avoid During Salary Negotiations


Alexandra Adamson

A salary negotiation can seem tricky and even unpleasant. This perception is often more acute among women, since they’re statistically less likely to negotiate for a raise than men.. Salary negotiations are an important part of taking ownership of your career, and tap directly into the hard skills you need to succeed in sales.

In order to lock in a great salary, it’s important to put your best foot forward by ridding your vocabulary of self-defeating words and phrases. There’s simply no room in your pitch for insecurity or vagueness. Here are 10 terms and phrases to avoid when negotiating a raise or starting salary, and what to try instead.

1. “Sorry.”

Although some say “sorry” as a way to appear non-threatening or polite, it shows weakness in your negotiation, and worse, makes it seem as though you feel you're doing something wrong - and you are not!

What to do instead: Avoid apologizing altogether. If you make a mistake, take the opportunity to reflect on it, and propose a more productive way forward.

2. “I accept it / I will take it / Yes!”

The first offer is often not the best: a skilled negotiator present the lowest number they think you'll accept.

What to do instead: Don't accept or even answer right away. Think for a bit, ask questions, and stall to promote discussion. Don’t be afraid to counter the initial offer–it’s the best opportunity you’ll have to secure a better deal for yourself. After all, you’ll have to live with the consequences of that handshake for a substantial period of time if you say yes right out of the gate.

3. “I can't afford ___. / I need to pay for ___.”

There are plenty of valid reasons for you to want a certain compensation plan, but personal issues should not come into play in negotiation. The company is supposed to pay what your work is worth, an employer is not there to cover your expenses. What to do instead: Assume the value you bring to the company is worth more than the sum of your bills. Show why your skills and experience will net a positive return on their investment. Don’t allow your personal expenses to set the bar for how they evaluate your work.

4. “I used to make ____. / My previous salary was ____.”

Admitting how much you made in the past automatically frames the negotiation around that number. While they may still offer you more than before, the increase will come in reference to your previous pay, rather than a more objective measure of what the position is worth to the company.

What to do instead: It's acceptable to say you don't wish to answer that question. However, if you disclose it, be brief, and show how much you've improved since you started at your last job in order to explain why a raise is warranted

5. “I don't know. / I'm not sure.”

Although sometimes honest, answering “I don’t know” shows you're not prepared. And what’s more, it reflects insecurity and uncertainty, two fatal flaws in any negotiation. What to do instead: Whether it’s a job interview or a conversation with your current employer, prepare ahead: do your research, talk to mentors, and get the facts around industry compensation plans. Once you do, don't be afraid to ask for what you want. If you’re really stumped on a question during the negotiation, try to reframe the discussion to fit an analogue you are more familiar with.

6. “I want at least ____.”

Similar to point #4 above, this also limits/links your potential pay to a specific number or range and gives your employer permission to pay the minimum amount necessary. What to do instead: Avoid giving exact numbers, but if you don’t have a choice, focus on a range that accurately reflects the value you’ll bring to the company. Be sure to do a healthy amount of research prior so that you can negotiate with hard data from industry averages.

7. “Can we talk about this at another time?”

Sales is all about taking the initiative and meeting challenges head-on. Kicking the can down the road on something as important as salary negotiation demonstrates an alarming lack of preparation and foresight. What to do instead: Embrace the salary negotiation as an opportunity to set the precedent for how your contribution to the company will be evaluated, rather than something frightening. Once again, come prepared with extensive research into what similar positions pay across the industry. Prove that what you're asking for is reasonable by showing what logic you used to get to that number.

8. “No.”

We don’t mean to say that you can’t express disagreement or dissatisfaction with an offer– quite the opposite. But simply making a negative assertion and leaving it at that demonstrates a lack of flexibility and creativity to come to a better agreement. Responding negatively in absolute terms such as “No,” “I don’t want that” or “This isn’t what I’d hoped for” is a great way to shut down negotiations and end the conversation before it even begins.

What to do instead: Instead of saying, “No,” make a respectful, assertive counteroffer. Demonstrate the reasoning behind why yours is the superior offer. Use disagreement as an opportunity to flex your negotiation muscle. If the salary is non-negotiable, however, try negotiating other benefits, such as vacation days or a bonus.

9. “I want more.”

Just the word “More” is not clear; it’s too vague, and depending on how it's used, it might come off as greedy or unappreciative. You always want to be as clear as possible in negotiations. What to do instead: Avoid framing your salary as a want. Remember, it’s all about value; if you believe you deserve more, hone in on how your skills and accomplishments are similarly rewarded elsewhere in the industry.

10. “But Susan makes ___. / Susan works less and makes more.”

In negotiating a raise, keep direct comparisons to colleagues out of it entirely. Not only is it unprofessional, especially if you’re not that person’s supervisor, but the comparison could backfire as you never know the intricacies of someone else’s salary including quota or attainment. What to do instead: Never throw the company or a coworker under the bus to get what you want. When establishing your worth to the company, make sure to keep the spotlight fixed on you and your accomplishments. Any other comparison is a distraction that lowers your value proposition and also demonstrates that you’re more concerned with making more than others than you are with being paid based on merit.