1. Don't ever lie about your previous salary. If you tell a potential employer you make more than you actually deposit each month, disaster will ensue. Here's what will happen: You'll accept the new job, your new employer will call your old employer to confirm your salary, and when they find out you lied, the offer will be rescinded. Major fail! The sad part is that many employees share untruths about their salary accidentally and without knowing they did anything wrong.
If you're in a sales job where the commission structure is confusing, or you have a startup position where you consider your options as part of your salary package, or perhaps you just received a year-end bonus, detail those line items individually instead of presenting your compensation as a singular salary. Don't exaggerate, and be very clear and upfront about your base paycheck versus any extras you receive on top of it. Better safe than really sorry.
2. Don't ever get defensive or upset. Negotiations and day-to-day meetings – and life for that matter – are much easier when people are optimistic and easy to work with. Don't put on a different persona or act "tough" simply because you think that's what's necessary to get the job done. Being difficult or threatening doesn't make you fun to deal with, nor is it a successful strategy for negotiating your salary. Be firm, of course, but also be your positive self.
"The conventional view holds that negotiators shouldn't necessarily be nasty and brutish but that they should remain tough-minded and poker-faced," argues Daniel H. Pink in his book "To Sell is Human." But research shows that positive emotions "broaden people's ideas about possible actions, opening our awareness to a wider range of thoughts … making us more receptive and more creative." That is, expressing appreciation, joy, interest and gratitude will grease the wheels of your negotiation and make your difficult conversation go a lot easier.
3. Don't ever talk about personal finances. Salaries are not based on your lifestyle choices or needs, and while such decisions may be the impetus to ask for a raise or look for a new job, they shouldn't be the reasons you present to make your case. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter if you can't pay your mortgage, need to save for your child's education or want a new car. Your compensation is based on the value you provide to your employer, not your finances. If you feel compelled to tell your sad story, don't. Make sure to leave the personal issues out.
Instead, try describing the immense potential you have to bring value to the company. You don't want to engender pity or despair, but rather inspire excitement and confidence. Because potential is not guaranteed, it may seem counterintuitive, but "that uncertainty can lead people to think more deeply about the person they're evaluating - and the more intensive processing that requires can lead to generating more and better reasons why the person is a good choice," Pink writes in his book. Make it easy for them to feel good, not guilty.
Money is an emotional topic and can lead to emotional responses, especially in situations you're not used to, like asking for more money. But if you're honest about your previous salary, positive in your demeanor and clear about the value you'll provide in the future, you'll avoid many common pitfalls on the way to a bigger and better paycheck.
Rebecca Thorman's weekly blog Kontrary offers tips to create the career, bank account, and life you love, and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. She writes from Washington, D.C.