How Can Women Escape the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma? Relational Accounts Are One Answer

Women can achieve better outcomes in salary negotiations without experiencing social backlash by providing a legitimate rationale for their ask, while communicating their concern for maintaining good organizational relationships.


Women’s lower salary expectations and lower propensity to negotiate salary increases contribute to the gender pay gap. Theoretically, women can close the gender gap by negotiating for higher salaries. However, women incur more social costs than men do when they negotiate higher salaries. Specifically, other employees express an unwillingness to work with women who ask for higher salaries because they view them as less nice and too demanding. These social costs women incur might potentially outweigh the benefits they derive from receiving higher salaries. In this paper, the authors examine whether certain negotiation strategies would allow women to improve both their social and negotiation outcomes.


In a lab setting, study participants assumed the role of executives and evaluated employees’ attempts to negotiate for higher compensation.

In the first study, the effectiveness of four negotiation strategies was examined: simple negotiation (not expressing concern for organizational relationship, not legitimating salary request with another job offer); using a relational script (expressing concern for organizational relationships, not legitimating salary request with another job offer); outside-offer-account (legitimation of salary increase request by another job offer, not expressing concern for organizational relationships); and relational script plus an outside-offer-account (concern for organizational relationships was paired with an attempt to legitimize salary increase request by another job offer). They found:

  • Individuals were more willing to work with women who expressed concern over organizational relationships but this did not improve their negotiated salary.
  • Women using an outside offer raised their negotiated salary by legitimizing their request for a higher salary, but this did not affect their social outcomes.
  • When women expressed concern for organizational relationships in addition to providing a legitimate outside offer, it did not improve their social outcomes though it did improve their negotiation outcomes.
  • The researchers suspected that the legitimate explanation for the salary request (i.e., an outside offer) contradicted the expression of concern for organizational relationships.

In Study 2, the researchers tested the effectiveness of two “relational accounts” as compared to simple negotiation. Relational accounts are negotiation strategies that explain the legitimacy of the negotiation request in terms that reinforce concern for organizational relationships. The control condition was the same as in Study 1. The relational accounts relied on two different logics for explaining the legitimacy of the request. The first used an excuse, which was that the employee has been advised by a supervisor to negotiate for higher compensation. The second justified the negotiation behavior by saying, “I’m hopeful you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important I bring to the job.” They found:

  • Using relational accounts (i.e., explaining the legitimacy of the negotiation request in terms that were consistent with concern for organizational relationships) improved both social and negotiation outcomes for women, but not for men.

In Study 1, 402 randomly selected college-educated Americans with work experience completed an online survey and evaluated the video of a job candidate’s salary increase request. The authors varied negotiator gender and negotiation strategies used in the videos. The negotiation strategies included simple negotiation (no relational script, no outside-offer account), relational script, outside-offer account, and relational script plus an outside-offer account.

Study 2 used the same procedure as Study 1. The sample consisted of 177 college-educated Americans with work experience. The authors varied the gender of the negotiator and the negotiation strategy. Two relational account-based negotiation strategies were compared to the simple negotiation strategy. The two relational account-based strategies used were (1) justifying salary increase request by a supervisor’s suggestion and (2) emphasizing the potential contribution of the requester’s negotiation skills to the organization.

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