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Funny Money: 5 Low-down, Dirty Tricks for Salary Negotiations

Negotiating your salary is the most important financial move you’re not making. Asking for more money is painful, but it can impact every paycheck you get for the rest of your life. It’s your livelihood; why not fight dirty?

Negotiating your salary may be the most important but most frequently neglected financial move you can make.With all apologies to the cinematic masterwork of the revered Jean-Claude Van Damme, the real blood sport is not kickboxing, but salary negotiations. It’s these brutal, high-stakes tangles with lopsided power dynamics that determine not only the size of your next paycheck, but every one thereafter. Every employee has to go through the ordeal of approaching a boss, hat in hand, begging for more money as Oliver Twist would for porridge.

Even workers who don’t have the guts to ask for more money unknowingly participate in negotiations. They just happen to have been extremely simple ones that went very,very well for the employer.

Let that be the first lesson of this post — that if you don’t ask for more, you are killing any chance at receiving what you’re worth. You are, in effect, losing by not mustering the courage to play the game. We have touched on the territory of negotiating before. So if you’re going to lose anyway, you may as well go down swinging.

If you aren’t willing to go down without a fight, you may as well learn how to fight dirty. Here are some ways to throw sand in the other guy’s face and up your chances of not losing as badly.

1. Play the sympathy card.

Sure, raises are supposed to be merit-based, but we’re all humans here. Look at the way Tiny Tim helped his pops melt the cruel heart of that Ebenezer Scrooge character! Subtly drop hints about mounting medical bills, your wife’s shopaholicism, the car accident you suffered last October and how you still can’t walk right, or whatever else it takes to make your boss pity you.

2. Find out what coworkers make.

This will take some doing, but colleagues’ salaries are key intel that will make the difference between a raise and another year in last year’s clothing. Maybe it involves taking a coworker you don’t like all that much for drinks. Maybe it calls for you to listen closely to your cubemate’s financial conversation with his wife. And maybe, just maybe, it requires peeking over his shoulder when he pulls up his direct deposit pay stub on his computer.

If all else fails, just make your boss think that you know that others are paid more than you. Because odds are they probably are.

3. Pretend to hate an offer, even if you love it.

Sometimes, if you happen to be an amazing worker and your boss actually appreciates your work, an employer will proactively offer you more money in hopes of keeping you happy and stationary. Don’t bite. Even if the raise is primed to please, it’s almost certainly not the best they can do.

Do yourself a favor by refusing to react with any enthusiasm, then double back with a counteroffer so high it makes them weep. The fools never should have let you realize that you had value to them. If they stand pat, you can take the first offer under the guise that you are doing them a favor.

4. Start a rumor about being in demand.

Like the jealous stalker boyfriend character from every Lifetime movie, your boss will take you for granted until the moment it looks like you might be leaving, at which point he will do anything to keep you. Or trap you. Whatever works best.

So even when there are no headhunters attempting to recruit you away, make believe as though they are. Have a friend place a reference call to HR. Leave a business card of a rival outfit on your desk. Tell the office gossip that you are weighing other offers. Then sit back and enjoy the show as your boss becomes a psycho stalker detective to find out if the rumors are true before inviting you in for a salary meeting.

5. Become a whiny brat.

If you are reading this, then you have most likely been a child at some point in your life. Remember how you used to get your way back then? Constant, annoying badgering. Your parents couldn’t get rid of you without complications, so they found it easier to placate you by giving you whatever stupid thing it took to shut your irritating face.

Infuse that early lesson into your relationship with your “work parent”s and you are more likely to get what you want. Provided they can’t get rid of you without complications, that is. Ask for raises at every opportunity, with a straight face, with just as much eagerness each time the opportunity arises. Then act just as devastated when you are turned down. The frequent whiner gets the cheese, or something like that.

Published or updated on July 10, 2013

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About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.


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  1. Shannon Last says:

    I disagree with most of this – particularly the one about pretending you’re hunting for other jobs when you aren’t. There are a lot of companies that will let you go if they find out you’re considering other options – one of my coworkers now was fired from his last job when word spread to management that he had been applying elsewhere.

    • Phil Villarreal says:

      If a company will let you go for looking around then it wanted to get rid of you anyway.

    • Scott says:

      I agree with Shannon. I know this guy thinks it is funny and per previous “Funny Money” articles – is potentially trying to make things entertaining – but this is just garbage…
      – “Maybe it involves taking a coworker you don’t like all that much for drinks.”
      – “And maybe, just maybe, it requires peeking over his shoulder when he pulls up his direct deposit pay stub on his computer.”

      This joker thinks he is being comical, but some young inexperienced worker is going to take him to heart and invite co-workers out and ask how much they make, or get in trouble (if not fired) for trying to snoop into someone’s HR/Paycheck info.

      And no, a company that lets you go for looking wasn’t necessarily trying to get rid of you. In your scenario above you advocate bragging to someone else how you are weighing offers from other companies – that is a good way to be shown the door.

      Let’s get some legitamate advise for people – not someone who posts a few things he thinks is funny to generate word count so he can submit an article…

      • Phil Villarreal says:

        Scott, my columns are tongue-in-cheek but do contain kernels of truth and practical advice. I disagree with your assumptions.

        All valuable employees receive interest from other employers. That interest is not reason enough to be canned if your employer likes the work you do.

        And knowledge of what other people make can only help you in determining how much you’re underpaid.

        • Scott says:

          True – every worthwhile employee will generate interest from other companies. I have issue with your assertion that an employee should then partake of the rumor mill and tell their co-workers that he is entertaining offers from other companies to try to generate an increase from their boss. I have several obvious issues with this, as would most people with integrity.

          Knowledge of what other people in your industry makes is very vital information for an employee, I could not agree more – but trying to sneak a peak at someone else’s pay stub is horrible advise – as is taking a co-worker out to try to get them to tell you how much they make.

          • Scott says:

            Also – apologies for taking a personal stab at you with the “joker” comment – was out of line.

          • Phil Villarreal says:

            Agree on all points, Scott. Hence the “low down, dirty…” in the headline.

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