The good news for technologists and managers is that salaries rose 3.6 percent in 2020, according to Dice’s 2021 Tech Salary Report. Given how technologist salaries have consistently risen over the past few years, we can hope that trend will continue into 2021. Whether or not you score a raise, though, often hinges on a negotiation with your manager—and such talks can become awkward and difficult when done via phone or video.
“Most people negotiate instinctively and intuitively,” explained Martin Latz, founder and CEO of Latz Negotiation. “To achieve better results, especially online, you need to pay attention to the negotiation process as well as the substance.”
With that in mind, here are some tips for getting the salary you deserve when working (and negotiating) remotely.
Schmooze or Lose
People tend to behave, think and feel very differently when they negotiate virtually as opposed to in-person, noted Dr. Leigh Thompson, professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and author of “Negotiating the Sweet Spot: The Art of Leaving Nothing on the Table.”
For instance, when you shake hands before a face-to-face negotiation, it releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, which can help put people at ease and build trust. If you’re negotiating your salary with a new employer, though, you might not have the chance for that kind of in-person contact if every meeting is conducted remotely. You’ll have to build trust another way.
How? Thompson endorses a strategy called “schmooze-or-lose” for establishing trust. “Conducting just five minutes of small talk before you begin can make all the difference,” she advised.
Other techniques for putting people at ease (call it a “virtual handshake”) include smiling, eliminating distractions and establishing a mutual gaze with the other party by looking directly into the camera. These might seem like minor things, but minor things can really add up when you’re entering into nuanced negotiations for better compensation and/or perks.
Noam Ebner, professor of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution for Creighton University, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, also recommends using verbal surrogates for physical touch, such as, “It’s good to see you again, I wish we could shake hands.”
Researchers at MIT say they can project how much a candidate will be offered during salary negotiations—within $1,000—based solely on their charisma. In a virtual world, however, it’s sometimes difficult to project charisma via a tiny video-conferencing screen. However, “soft skills” such as empathy, active listening and clear communication can help you quickly build a connection with your negotiating partner.
To convey “e-charisma,” pick the right moment to negotiate by divulging your intent ahead of time. Then set the stage for cooperation by defining the opportunity clearly from both perspectives; strive for mutual gain.
For instance, say something like: “My goal is to make you feel good about hiring me and to use my technical skills and experience to contribute to the growth of the organization. So, I’d like to explore some ways that we can move forward.”
If you’re already in the job, and negotiating for a pay bump, make sure to highlight how you’ve substantially contributed to the business since your last raise discussion. If your manager provides feedback, make sure you listen and convey that you understand. Showing that you’re fully engaged can help you get at least part of what you want.
Shift Your Mindset and Approach
It’s much easier for a hiring manager to say “no” in an impersonal environment like a video call. Plus, video communications tend to be more task-oriented and subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation, which erodes trust.
When faced with these disadvantages, many inexperienced negotiators become uncomfortable and commit rookie mistakes such as being too aggressive, Latz warned.
Strong-armed tactics rarely work. To gain the upper hand, shift your mindset and framework; it’s not about victory, it’s about solving problems in a mutually beneficial way. You want a raise; your manager may have some asks of their own. Build rapport by explaining the reasons or justification for your salary request in a way that considers and satisfies the employer’s interests and investment, Latz added.
If you reach an impasse, don’t pose a close-ended question like: “Can we do a signing bonus instead?” Use brainstorming and open-ended questions to your advantage by asking: “What else can we do to meet our objectives?”
Of course, preparation is the key to success in any negotiation, so it’s important to know in advance which monetary and non-monetary rewards are important to you and what items you’re willing to trade.
Watch Your Language
When social cues are limited, the other party tends to parse what you say and how you say it.
To come across as reliable and competent, not egotistical, avoid ultimatums or rights-based phrases that convey a sense of entitlement such as: “I think I deserve to be paid more.” Rather than using singular pronouns such as “I,” “me” and “myself,” to communicate the justification for your salary requirements, use plural pronouns such as “we,” “our” and “us.”
For instance, try saying something like: “Offering a competitive, market-based salary will put us in a great position to move forward.”
Maximize Your Leverage
Although negotiating remotely can be difficult and stressful, don’t under-estimate your power. “You’ll never have more power to negotiate than when an employer has made an offer and you haven’t accepted,” Thompson said.
Don’t accept the first offer and don’t just split things down the middle. Plan your response and be ready to explain what you can deliver based on your prior accomplishments.