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How to Mitigate Stress at the Negotiation Table

How to Mitigate Stress at the Negotiation Table

Stress during salary negotiation can be triggered by various factors. Some of these include a lack of negotiation skills and fear of conflict and losing the job opportunity. While these are valid reasons for distress, these can make you a less effective negotiator, diminishing your probability of getting an optimal offer. As a matter of fact,  a study revealed that stressed negotiators reach lower quality deals in comparison to the calm ones. In this article, we will talk about some tactics you can do to mitigate stress at the negotiation table.

1) Set realistic salary goals and expectations

Employers generally offer employees a 3% to 5% salary increase on average. On the other hand, professionals who find a new job externally get an average salary increase of 10% to 20%. The 7% to 15% difference makes it a more viable option for most professionals to change jobs. However, this can make it tempting for some candidates to set unrealistic salary standards in the hope of maximizing their earning potential. Although this may sound rational, delusive salary goals can result in unmet expectations and disappointment. These can create unnecessary stress.

Setting a realistic salary range early in the process is imperative in preventing stress before it even begins. Not only does it help ensure congruence between your expectations and the actual job offer, but it also helps you weed out employers that don’t meet your requirements. Below are some key points to consider that will help you establish factual salary goals and expectations.

  • Consider the employer’s standard salary range for the vacancy.
  • Leverage online tools such as GlassdoorSalary.com, and PayScale to identify market averages for similar roles.
  • Understand your value based on your candidate profile.
  • Proactively check the standard salary range with the employer to validate your assumptions.

2) Be well prepared

The bargaining part of the negotiation process can be the biggest contributor to stress, especially if you’ve come unprepared. Preparing and planning ahead is one of the best ways to manage this stress. After evaluating your job offer, prepare your list of important compensation criteria to be negotiated. Then, set minimum and maximum justifiable values for each criterion. This will provide you with a clear picture of where you can be open for the other party to have their way and where you need to combat the criteria that are of paramount importance to you. Consequently, saving you from unnecessary arguments and stress.

Once you have a list of your must-haves, create and practice your pitch using a mirror, video, or with a friend. This will enable you to become more comfortable with your speaking points. As you increase your confidence in your pitch, the feeling of worry, unease, or fear reduces. When you present your pitch in a calm manner, you are likely to achieve a favorable negotiation.

3) Ask for help

Asking for help is essential in reducing your overall experience of stress. If you feel lost or overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You may talk to your friend, someone from your professional network, or a career expert. Doing so helps create optimism and hope that you will be able to navigate the challenges of salary negotiation. Furthermore, these people can evoke salary negotiation ideas you may not have considered, optimizing your chances of a successful negotiation.

4) Do a breathing exercise before the actual negotiation

When people are anxious, they tend to take rapid, shallow breaths that come directly from the chest. This can upset the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange in the body, contributing to the feeling of anxiety.  Medical experts recommend breathing exercises as a way to cope with stress. You can do this exercise a few minutes before the actual negotiation to help you feel calm and relaxed. Here is how you can perform this exercise according to the National Health Service (NHS) UK.

  • Make yourself as comfortable as you can.
  • Let your breath flow as deep down into your belly as is comfortable, without forcing it.
  • Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Breathe in gently and regularly. You may count steadily from one to five.
  • Let your breath flow gently without pausing or holding. You may count from one to five again if you find it helpful.
  • Keep doing this for three to five minutes.

5) Use pauses when you communicate your negotiation points

Presenting your pitch can be nerve-wracking. When you’re anxious, it’s easy to speed up your manner of speaking and end up talking too fast. This can leave you out of breath and get more nervous, inducing a feeling of stress. To prevent this from happening, try to slow down and use pauses when you talk. Pausing could be used to accentuate your key speaking points and help your pitch feel more conversational even if it was rehearsed.

6) Know when to walk away

Even with the best preparation and negotiation skills, you may not always achieve a favorable salary negotiation outcome.  Hence, knowing when it’s time to walk away is imperative. Being willing to walk away is one of the best ways to reduce your own internal pressures and avoid stress. Moreover, it minimizes your chances of accepting a job offer that is not in your best interest.

After determining your ideal salary range as advised in tip number one, consider the lowest value deal that you’re happy to accept. This could be based on your financial needs, market value, or career goals. If the negotiation talks fail and no mutually beneficial agreement is reached, thank the employer for the opportunity and keep looking for a job that aligns with your criteria.


Salary negotiation can be taxing, and it’s normal to experience stress. The tactics outlined in this article should help you manage this stress, enabling you to become a more effective negotiator. However, no matter how good of a negotiator you are, keep in mind that you don’t have full control of the outcome. So, instead of focusing on winning, concentrate on doing your best. This can help minimize the feeling of disappointment and anxiety when the outcome doesn’t go as planned.