There’s some evidence that the first number mentioned in salary negotiations serves as an anchor. As an employee, you can influence the employer’s final salary by asking for a high number up front. That high number, you may know, is out of the employer’s range, but by asking for a somewhat reasonable high number, you’re making an impression that continues to influence the following discussion. If you allow the employer to make the first offer, and it’s low, they may have successfully anchored the number in your mind. As a result, you may accept a salary lower than you would have otherwise.
In a controlled study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers have reason to believe that offering a ridiculously high salary proposal — even as a joke — is just as effective as an anchor. Although both parties may laugh off a $100,000 starting salary for an administrative assistant, for example, the same anchoring effect is at play during the subsequent negotiation. In the study’s simulations, candidates who started off the negotiation with a ridiculous request received 9% higher offers on average.
Here were the parameters of the study.
- Participants were asked to role play in a simulation. The employer had offered the job of an administrative assistant to the applicant.
- The applicant had a previous salary of $29,000.
- When asked for salary requirements, the control group asked for a reasonable salary while the test group kiddingly asked for $100,000.
There’s another interpretation that it doesn’t appear the researchers have considered: starting what is usually a tense and stressful conversation with levity could put all parties at ease, and that might encourage everyone to work together to find an agreeable compromise. Also missing is a true real-world experiment. Simulations are valuable from a theoretical perspective, but until this technique is tested in a real-world environment, it will be hard to say whether a joke salary request will have a real positive effect on negotiations from the candidate’s point of view.
Would you be willing to start your salary negotiation with a joke?
Published or updated September 13, 2011.