Interview Negotiations

Is it better to offer a salary range or a single number during negotiations?

You’re invited to an interview. You sit in a room with a recruiter discussing your opportunities, skills and needs. A few words about a potential project and then it happens. The moment you were dreading is here. You hear the question, the one that is quite cumbersome for many candidates.

Your mind is filled with various ideas. What are you supposed to say in order not to seem arrogant and still get the highest amount of money? Should you offer a single number or a range of numbers? For example, is it better to ask for $95.000 right away or rather kindly mention a range of $90.000 – $100.000?

Knowing that an anchor number is a powerful tool during negotiations (you can read more about it here), you should be the one who puts the number on a table first. But does it actually mean that you should propose a single number or a salary range? A study [1] conducted by the professors of Columbia University, Daniel R. Ames and Malia F. Mason, found that an anchoring number supported by a range of numbers was in fact an effective way of negotiating.

A range can support an anchor number

Ames and Mason found that offering a moderate range is better than offering a single number, no matter if you negotiate a starting salary, a pay rise or a new car. Asking for a salary between $90.000 and $95.000 resulted in a higher final amount than asking for precisely $92.000.

They also identified different types of range offers and they found that some of them worked better than others. Let’s say you’re asking for a $1.000. You can use those three approaches:

negotiation strategies

A bolstering range works for your advantage

The most successful option for price negotiation was the bolstering range. It means putting a desired amount as the lowest number and stretching the range to a more ambitious amount.  

Ames and Mason hypothesized that by offering a salary range you can initiate the politeness mechanism. People can feel social pressure to return politeness to you, thus making you an offer which is in the range that you’ve proposed. 

“Negotiators seem to intuit what would be polite in terms of their treatment of their counterpart, and this factors into their own behavior.”

An online study proved that ranges appear to be more flexible than a single number. The participants of the study were assigned to play the role of either a hiring manager or a candidate. They received offers in a single number, a bracketing range and a bolstering range. They were then asked to form an opinion about the person’s personality in terms of their stubbornness, confidence, aggression and flexibility. 

Proposing a range didn’t destroy the relationship between the hiring manager and the candidate. Those who got offers in the form of a salary range considered such candidates to be less aggressive and more flexible in comparison to those who asked for a single number. 

What about choosing really high numbers?

You may now start to think about going one step further and improving that technique by stretching the top boundary to a really high number. If you can make up any anchor number, why not use a really high one?

But I’ve got bad news for you. Additional experiments proved that choosing unreasonably high numbers didn’t work for the candidate’s advantage.

The most successful approach was using a moderate range in which the second number was about 5% to 20% higher than the first number. It also turned out that operating with too wide ranges, for example between a $1.000 and $5.000, was not beneficial and didn’t result in higher final offers.  

Picking a wrong anchor number

You can be curious about what the most typical range is. Is it that everyone is a great negotiator and uses a bolstering range?

Ames and Mason also conducted a pilot study in which they asked 400 participants to imagine a situation where they were selling a used car. Their goal was to use both a single number and a range offer. Interestingly enough, the study produced the following results: 51% of participants used a bracketing range, 29% used a backdown range and only 17% chose a bolstering range. 

It means that for the majority the most reasonable range was bracketing and only a few participants used the most effective method – bolstering.

Conclusion

When you negotiate a salary you need to remember about the power of an anchor number and support it with a range. According to Ames and Mason’s research, that combination is the most effective type of negotiation and it results in the highest final offers. But of course it all depends on the situation. There are different ways to negotiate a deal and I’m not saying that you should always and only use the range offers.

However, if you want to be seen as polite, flexible and less stubborn, you should consider offering a range. Choosing a moderate bolstering range or a narrow bracketing range is a good option if you want to secure a satisfactory final offer and maintain the good relationship you’ve built.

“Our results surprised us, up-ending how we teach the topic. We can’t say that range offers work 100% of the time, but they definitely deserve a place in the negotiator’s toolkit.”


References

[1] Daniel R. Ames, Malia F. Mason. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 108(2):254-74. January 2015. Tandem Anchoring: Informational and Politeness Effects of Range Offers in Social Exchange.

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