Professionelle resources

Build for success > Essential Skills > Reframing Salary Negotiations for Success

Reframing Salary Negotiations for Success

By Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

Research Overload

The late 1990s trickle of research on gender and negotiation has become a rushing, roaring torrent. For those of us who aren’t HR professionals or researchers, one sign is the frequency of articles in the general press on the subject. It’s partly fuelled, of course, by the rising interest in the persistent pay gap and the enduring lack of senior women. That perspective perhaps explains why some experimenters seem fixated on the deficit model, in other words trying to identify what women don’t do / don’t think/ don’t aspire to / etc that men do.

Deficit Model

The main messages on salary negotiations in the career advice articles and blogs that flow from this research are correspondingly:

  • women don’t ask for raises as often as men
  • women don’t ask for as much money in pay negotiations as men do
  • women don’t perform as well in pay negotiations as men
  • women let themselves be held back from asking for money by fear of the backlash against ‘unfeminine’ behaviour

There’s truth in all these points of course… and as long as many of us operate in organisations where norms and structures reflect their masculine designers, we can’t ignore them. What I have been hunting for in the research, though, are authentic things women can do to lift their pay negotiation effectiveness without straying too far from what feels authentic.


If I reflect on my own experiences, as well as what we hear through Professionelle, I perceive a mindset among women when it comes to salary negotiation. It includes seeing the situation as:

  • win-lose
  • time-bounded (now or never!)
  • stressful
  • often ambiguous (where are the limits? what’s OK?)

Negotiator Magazine citing Babcock and Laschever bears this out, saying two and a half times as many women as men feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiating and a full 20% say they avoid it completely. Only 14% of successful women said that negotiation made them feel powerful and assertive.

What can we do, then, to feel more relaxed and confident from the start, which would be a much better jumping-off point for asking for what we need? This was where I began to think about how reframing our mental image of the negotiation could help us become more effective while staying true to ourselves. I found three reframes that you might find useful.

Reframe salary reviews in your mind to be collaborative conversations that are about more than money and will benefit more people than you alone.

Collaborative Communication

Cait Clarke, who has written Dare to Ask, suggests women feel better reframing negotiations as collaborative conversations rather than win-lose, high-stakes battles. Collaborative exploration of a situation draws on women’s gender strengths of empathy and communicating, and the element of social bonding required in a conversation makes us more relaxed.  This approach also introduces the notion that the conversation can continue, it doesn’t have to be wrapped up in one do-or-die session.

I believe Clarke is drawing on a top negotiating strategy taught in business and law schools: interest-based, mutual benefit. It’s not really headline news as the core of the concept was described in Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury over 30 years ago! It calls for understanding the difference between your position (e.g. “I want to sign the deal for this contract job at my going rate”) and your interest (e.g. “I want repeat business and this company could give me that”) – and understanding the other party’s position and interests.

Interests are about motivations, and why something matters to people. Interests aren’t always obvious; you need to be able to draw them out by listening and questioning. That’s why going into a negotiation with the mindset that it will be a collaborative conversation is so much more effective than feeling obliged to stake out a position and shout.

It’s About More Than Money

Another useful mental reframe is to remember that the salary negotiation can go beyond dollars and cents. Why does this matter?

Let’s go back to the research. A wide review of negotiation research found two things:

  1. Women were less successful than men in negotiations that focused on money;
  2. Women were less successful than men in ‘distributive’ negotiations but were competent in ‘integrative’ situations. Definitions: ‘distributive’ = about one issue, or a one-off situation – exactly what a salary negotiation would be. ‘Integrative’ involves more issues, more stakeholders, a longer timeframe.

So women show up better in negotiations where there are more levers and issues to deal with than money alone. That suggests we need to think carefully before the negotiation about what ELSE would be of value to us.

Flex time? A laptop? A compressed week?  As Clarke says, these are not unreasonable requests, they are ways by which we can show up at our most productive best at work, which is in the employer’s interests (and of course we should be seeking to understand those interests during our conversations…).

It’s About More Than Me

Reframe the negotiation in your mind to include more stakeholders than just yourself, for example your family – or even, potentially, your team if the negotiation could make you more productive. Keep in mind that you are negotiating for their good, not just your own.

Why This Broader View?

Back to the research! It’s because there is ample evidence (Moss-Racusin et al.) that women negotiate more effectively than men when they go in to bat for someone else’s salary, promotion or opportunity rather than their own.  As women, we seem to bring our A-game as ‘agents’, while men seem to bring their A-game as ‘principals’, especially in ambiguous situations that amp up competitiveness. As I read recently:

Women are better able to expand the value of a negotiation, but unfortunately fail to capture much of that value for themselves.

More Things to Try

Beyond reframing, remember there are other things we can do to lift our effectiveness in negotiations without having to morph into someone we’re not. They can be best summed up as ‘prepare and practise’ which draws on a common female tendency to work hard, even to the point of perfectionism.

View all Resources or read another Resource below

All Topics
  • All Topics
  • Begin with success
  • Self-insight for success
  • Build for success
  • Successful working mothers
  • Lead with success

Self Awareness – A Must-Have Ingredient for Career Success

BEFORE YOU READ ON, take a minute or two to reflect on your definition of success. Is it about money?Is...

An Introduction to Emotional Intelligence

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE IS A hot topic in today's work environment where traditional command and control type leadership is all...

On first impressions

Making the Most of First Impressions Like it or not, the first things people notice are outside our...

Ready to find out more?

If you would like to find out more about Professionelle and how we might benefit you or your organisation, please contact our Director, Jayne Chater on or 021 779 967.