An employee negotiating his/her salary may often feel a complete lack of bargaining power. If the employee lacks alternative jobs, and thus cannot make a credible threat to quit or take another job, it is easy to feel that the offer made by the employer is a take it or leave it offer which the employee cannot influence at all.
The employee or job seeker can however take advantage of the laws of human nature to increase his/her leverage when negotiating the salary. One of these laws says that every human being has an interest in being recognized as a worthy member of society. The only chance to be recognized as such a member is to show that one is willing to comply with the basic norms of society. Not to comply with these basic norms is to put oneself outside society, a condition that is unbearable to most people.
The most fundamental norm of society is the norm of reciprocity. According to Wikipedia, the norm of reciprocity is “the social expectation that people will respond to each other in kind — returning benefits for benefits, and responding with either indifference or hostility to harm.”
The power of this norm can be felt in most bargaining situations. Assume a buyer and a seller are haggling over the price of a car. The seller starts out with a bid at $24,000. The buyer finds this offer unacceptable and makes a counter bid at $15,000. Now, the seller lowers his bid to $20,000, i.e. he makes a concession. In this case, the buyer will most often feel inclined to increase his bid, maybe to $17,000. The reason why the buyer will feel this inclination is because of the presence of the norm of reciprocity. This norm now demands that the buyer responds to the seller’s concession with another concession.
The norm of reciprocity is so powerful that it can be taken advantage of in almost any bargaining situation, even by a party that otherwise completely lacks leverage. This norm is a most powerful ally to the employee or job seeker negotiating his salary – if correctly appealed to.
The norm of reciprocity will only work if it is very clear that the employee makes a concession or gives something away to the employer. This can be made in several ways. If, for example, the employer has worked over time for months without any compensation, he can say “I really do like this work. That is the reason why I have spent hours and hours of overtime here. I think it is only fair that I get some kind of compensation for my efforts for this company.” Another way is to start out the salary negotiation by making a high but reasoned salary claim, from which a concession can be made in the next round.
With the norm of reciprocity in his toolbox, the employee or job seeker negotiating his salary will have dramatically increased his leverage.