Cool as a cucumber during salary negotiations

cool announcer microphone adtAsk the Career Coach
Question: Within your negotiations, how do you play it “cool” without coming across as inflexible or desperate?

Everyone wants to be “cool” like Elvis or “The Fonz”, right? Cool as a cucumber.

Unfortunately, we are all human and are vulnerable. You need/want a new job, so you are out looking for one. The employer knows that. They need that slot filled too, and might be equally nervous about whether you will say “yes.”

There’s nothing wrong with being excited, positive, hopeful and a little bit nervous during the negotiation stage. There’s also nothing wrong with showing that or sharing it—a little.

The most power you will ever have in a negotiation is when:

a) They really, really want you and have invested a lot of time/money in you

b)  You are perfectly willing to get up and walk away

The reality is that you will rarely be willing to get up and walk away (i.e. you don’t really need that job, so you can be inflexible and demand rather than negotiate). However, try this: pretend you don’t “need” but are willing to “consider” the job. How differently would you act? Would you be more relaxed and easygoing? Try this mental tactic on yourself  during negotiation.

Two things you don not want to display during a salary and job negotiation are inflexibility and desperation. Both of these traits really blow your cool image out of the water!


Inflexible job seekers tend to focus narrowly on salary, do not offer alternatives, use the word “I” a lot, and don’t use words like “concessions” and “win-win”. They tend to view the world as black-and-white, and aren’t interested in finding shades of gray or common ground. Often they take an adversarial position once the job offer comes, and bring emotion into the process.

When discussing the future job, try to focus on being willing to create alternatives, finding areas of agreement, and stating that you want both parties to be satisfied. When you make absolute statements you don’t give the employer any room to create other options and work with you.

Avoid:salary budget money negotiate coins penny

  • “I won’t/can’t take any less than…”
  • “My market research says that $X  is the right amount…”
  • “I really need…”


Desperate job seekers are afraid, and they show it. Usually it is financial desperation, but could also be based on insecurity, loss of identity with job loss, or age/discrimination-based fears.

Desperate job seekers tend to be in a rush, have little patience, and freely share their many stresses with everyone they meet. Rather than getting the empathy they seek, they tend to either be pitied or labeled as a whiner (cringe).

Would you rather have lunch with Winnie the Pooh’s eternally mournful donkey friend Eeyore, or with the bouncy, cheerful, and optimistic Tigger? Your outlook on the future and the job results you will bring to the company need to be the focus of your energy.  You don’t need to blurt out the whole truth; decide what you want to share.


  • “They (last employer) really caught me unaware when they laid me off, I had just… (name expensive thing you did).
  • “I’m really under a lot of pressure at home, my spouse/significant other is really upset…”

Keeping your cool during the negotiation of a job offer isn’t easy. It’s like walking a tightrope. Don’t be afraid to show your humanity and your personality, but do be mindful how the words you use can impact your image.


  1. Salary negotiations are always difficult for me. I always read up on how to handle them before any job interview or negotiation for contracting. I have gained immeasurable help and success from doing this! Great post.

    Elizabeth T, Early Riser

  2. I have to admit that I’ve never been in a position to negotiate a salary. I don’t think I even considered it was a possibility as at that time, women in the workplace just considered themselves lucky to have a job and once you had one, you usually didn’t consider moving on unless you were moving. However this is 2013 and I recognize that it’s a different world out there. So thanks for sharing such amazing tips.

    Erica from

  3. Hi Gail,
    I definitely want to be a Tigger! One way I always stayed calm in negotiations was to remember that if the job did work out and I got the position, that I’d be working with these folks every day. There wouldn’t be any tension anymore. So I just tried to keep cool and discuss things as if I already was a co-worker.
    Thanks for this encouraging post.