Women May Undermine Salary Negotiations with Excessive Gratitude

Andreas Leibbrandt

Full, candid self-disclosure can hamper outcomes for poker players and negotiators.

This idea was confirmed in an experiment by Monash University’s Andreas Leibbrandt and John A. List of the University of Chicago, when women undermined their salary negotiations by revealing their gratitude for a salary that exceeded their expectations.

John List

John List

Participants were women applying for administrative assistant jobs with a posted wage of USD $17.60 per hour.

Researchers told some volunteers that the wages were “negotiable,” and these women negotiated their pay upward by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.
This result echoes previous findings that women frequently do not negotiate unless given explicit permission, and consequently, have lower salary offers than those who negotiate.

Leibbrandt and List tested this hypothesis by not mentioning negotiation to the remaining participants, and these women typically provided “too much information” by remarking that the posted wage “exceeds my expectations. I am willing to work for a minimum of $12.”

Edward E. Jones

Edward E. Jones

Though this approach likely leads to lower salary, it could be considered strategic ingratiation.
This negotiation approach that can take several forms, according to Duke University’s Edward E. Jones:

-Self-presentation (self-enhancement or “one-down” humility, providing favors or gifts),

-Flattery (“other-enhancement” either directly or ensuring word-or-mouth report of positive yet credible comments),

-Agreement (opinion-conformity, non-verbal matching-mimicry).

The ingratiator’s intent may have been to enhance the future working relationship, but could cause the negotiation partner to question the applicant’s judgment, qualifications, and confidence.
The longer term impact in workplace settings is to delay salary increases because the candidate appeared satisfied with the original offer.

Steven H. Appelbaum

Steven H. Appelbaum

However, “strategic ingratiation” may result in promotion or pay increase, according to Concordia University’s Steven H. Appelbaum and Brent Hughes.

They found that effective use of “strategic ingratiation” was influenced  by situational and individual factors including:

  • Machiavellianism,
  • Locus of control,
  • Work task uniqueness.
Jeffrey Flory

Jeffrey Flory

In another of Leibbrandt and List’s randomized field studies, collaborating with Concordia colleague Jeffrey Flory, they found that among nearly 2,500 job-seekers, men did not wait for permission to negotiate when no statement was made about salary discussions.

In fact, male participants said they prefer ambiguous salary negotiation norms.
Despite women’s general hesitance to negotiate without an invitation, women advocated for more favorable salaries at about the same rate as men when invited.

The team extended these findings by analyzing nearly 7,000 job-seekers with varying compensation plans.
In “competitive work settings,” salary negotiation was typically expected, and men stated a preference for these work environments.

Leibbrandt, List, and Flory concluded that women accept “competitive” workplaces provided “the job task is female-oriented” and the local labor market leaves few alternatives.

Women looking for better salary outcomes benefit from proposing their “aspirational salaries” rather than waiting for permission to negotiate.
In addition, women negotiators can achieve better outcomes when they offer moderate expressions of gratitude and avoid revealing their “reserve” salary figure.

-*In what work situations have you benefitted from applying ‘strategic ingratiation’?

-*To what extent have expressions of gratitude in negotiation undermined bargaining outcomes?


©Kathryn Welds

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