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5 Psychological Hacks Smart Negotiators Use to Boost Their Chances for a Pay Raise

Just be careful about issuing an ultimatum: Your employer may take you up on it.

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Having passion for your career is essential to surviving any 9-to-5 gig. But at the end of the day, your job needs to help you make a decent living. If you aren’t getting paid enough to live your desired lifestyle, it’s usually time to ask for a pay raise or seek a new job.

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Related: 5 Rules of Salary Negotiation

Of course, going in to your boss and demanding a pay raise or attempting to negotiate a higher salary with a potential employer can be an intimidating prospect. You might find it hard to imagine these conversations going in a favorable direction.

However, just as there are psychological hacks for improving your business conversation skills, there are techniques with which you can increase your likelihood of a successful salary negotiation. Here are five hacks to get you started.

1. Start with the scope of what you do.

According to blogger Mark Raffan, writing for "Negotiations Ninja," “I generally advise to negotiate the job scope (description, travel requirements, leadership exposure, advancement opportunities, team makeup, autonomy, responsibilities, accountability, etc) before salary.

“The reason I recommend this," Raffan continued, "is because even though there’s a job description, the expectations for the job may be completely different than what’s in the description. And generally speaking, the job description usually sucks. It usually doesn’t say much about ‘how’ the job is expected to be done.

"By determining the expectations of the hiring manager around the job itself, you can save yourself a lot of headaches in the future. It also gives you the opportunity to negotiate some intangible benefits as well.”

A high-paying job won’t last long if the company’s expectations don’t line up with your own. Negotiating the scope of the prospective position will keep everyone on the same page and set the right tone for pending salary negotiations.

2. Ask for more.

A common mistake when negotiating a pay raise is to state how much you think you’re worth. While that may seem counterintuitive, your best bet for getting a meaningful raise is to ask for more than you think you’re worth.

Related: Stop Selling Yourself Short: 4 Tips to Help You Negotiate the Highest Salary

A joint study between The Ohio State University and Vanderbilt confirmed that this “anchoring” process is most effective when you make the initial salary suggestion, rather than letting your boss go first. Your requested higher salary sets the tone for negotiations and becomes the base line for determining your raise.

Even though your boss may negotiate a lower raise, it will still likely be closer to what you think you’re worth than what it would have been had you started with the lower number.

3. Make it personal.

Don’t fall into the trap of keeping your conversations “purely business” as you approach a salary negotiation. Studies have found that salespeople tend to be more successful when they share their own personal stories. Discussing hobbies or other items not directly related to the business at hand makes them more relatable and likable to a potential customer, the study found; and that increases the odds of a sale.

The same tactics can also play a role when you negotiate your salary.

This doesn’t mean that you should take the conversation completely off-track into a discussion of your personal life. But by sharing a few interesting snippets to foster a stronger connection with your boss, you can create a more favorable impression during the negotiating process.

4. Don’t forget body language.

Displaying confidence during the negotiating process depends on much more than the words coming out of your mouth. Your body language also communicates whether you feel confident or anxious. For many in business, this communicates whether or not you truly believe in what you are saying.

Basic tips like maintaining eye contact, striking a “power pose” before going into your meeting and keeping your hands above the table can help display confidence and trust.

Related: 9 Things to Never Say in a Salary Negotiation

According to an article on the Harvard Law School Daily Blog, mimicry could actually be the most effective body language hack of all: “Rather than feeling embarrassed or silly when you and a counterpart copy each other’s behavior, you should congratulate yourself," the writer pointed out. "Mimicry is a sign that you’re both striving to build rapport, connect, and find common ground, even if you don’t know how or when the mimicry started. Mimicry seems to make us feel comfortable with others and encourage us to trust them.”

5. Leverage the power of other offers.

No business wants to lose a top-performing employee. In fact, studies have found that the “the average cost of replacing an employee amounts to fully 20 percent of the person's annual salary.” For many employers, offering a raise will be more cost-effective than making a new hire.

Sometimes, though, to get the raise you deserve, you’ll need to approach your current employer with another offer already in hand. To keep you around, your employer will need to match or beat the offer from that rival.

Though this strategy can be highly effective, New York Times writer Rob Walker warned that, “There’s nothing wrong with an ultimatum -- so long as you’re ready to live with the consequences. If you aren’t, then you’re really just bluffing …The best mind-set to have is one of confidence: You would be happy to accept that offer, not because you hate your current job but because the new one is a nice opportunity.”

In sum, negotiating a higher salary can be intimidating -- and even with the right tactics, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be successful. However, by taking a proactive approach, you can significantly improve your financial situation both in the short and long term.

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