The Secret to a Higher Salary: Ask for Nothing?

An interesting experience by Brooke Allen on negotiating the highest salary (in his mind) by asking for nothing at all (literally, $0):

The next time I had to negotiate a contract, it began in typical fashion with a prospective employer sending me a lopsided agreement and asking me to counter-propose. I said I was incompetent to do that and suggested they write a new contract as if they were me, putting in everything that would be in my best interests, and then taking out everything they would never agree to. Since that would be the best I could get, I would accept it subject to agreement on compensation.

We started with base pay. I wrote down the least I would work for and asked them to write down the most they would offer a perfect person, irrespective of whether I was that person or not. If when we exchanged papers, their number wasn’t higher than mine then we could stop there and save time. Their number was twice the best base pay I had ever received in past jobs, and my request was for $0. I explained that my goal is to live a debt-free life, and therefore I wanted to give value before receiving compensation.

We did the same thing with profit sharing percentages. However, this time I wanted the highest payout standard for our industry, which happened to match their number. We agreed on that percentage because it maximized my incentive to perform and minimize the risk I would ever want to go elsewhere. (As it turned out, because human resources wouldn’t put me on the books without paying me something, I ended up getting a better deal than the best I would have ever asked for.)

I’m all about the win-win, but I have doubts about the employer playing a game where they write their number down, you write your number down, and then perform a bilateral exchange. This process takes days or even weeks, not minutes as implied by Allen’s post.

Tessa Hadley’s Short Story “Experience”

Tessa Hadley’s short story “Experience” is my fiction read of the week. It’s about a twenty-eight year old narrator, Laura, who moves into her “friend of a friend” Hana’s house while Hana moves away for a while. Rummaging through the attic one day, Laura discovers Hana’s diary. One day, Hana’s former lover, Julian, pays a visit and things escalate (but not in the way I expected):

I’d never have picked Julian out as a sensuous type if I hadn’t read Hana’s diary; he seemed too busy and prosaic, without the abstracted dreamy edges I’d always imagined in people who gave themselves over to their erotic lives. And yet, because of the secret things I knew about him, I was fixated on him the whole time I watched him cook, and then afterward, while we sat opposite each other eating at the little table he pulled up to my armchair. I told myself that, if he left without anything happening, then I had lost my chance and I would die. I wasn’t melting or longing for him to touch me or anything like that; the desire wasn’t in my body but wedged in my mind, persistent and burrowing. I didn’t even like Julian much. But liking people and even loving them seemed to me now like ways of keeping yourself safe, and I didn’t want to be safe. I wanted to cross the threshold and be initiated into real life. My innocence was a sign of something maimed or unfinished in me.

The ending is a bit anti-climactic, which is something I’ve come to expect from a lot of these fictional stories in The New Yorker.