As a salary negotiation coach, one of the questions people ask me the most is how to manage the flow of their pay negotiation conversation. What do you say first? How do you end it? And when’s the right time to ask for more of whatever it is you’d like more of?

My best advice is to use a four-step process, with clear goals in each section.

  1. Express delight
  2. Ask questions
  3. Make requests
  4. End on an up note
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Step 1: Express Delight

The first step in any great salary negotiation conversation is to let the person you’re negotiating with know that you’re happy to have an offer. Don’t make them wonder!

Now, this doesn’t mean that you are totally satisfied with every element in the offer, or that you don’t want to negotiate. And expressing delight doesn’t mean you’ll sound desperate, either.

Keep it simple, like: “Thank you so much! I’m so happy to receive the offer. I’m glad the team feels like I’m a good fit for the role.” Or: “I’m delighted to have the offer!”

This starts the conversation off in positive territory.

Step 2: Ask Questions

It’s almost certain you’ll have questions to ask. I like to divide them into two lists – the first are questions you need answers to in order to evaluate or negotiate your offer, and the second are questions you need answers to at some point, but they won’t necessarily impact your decision to accept or reject the offer.

Questions in the first category are the only ones you should be asking in your negotiating conversation. Things like what the average annual bonus payout has been for the past three years, or what kind of 401k match the company offers, or how much vacation time the company offers are all fair game here.

One caveat: do NOT ask questions that are easily answered by any of the information you’ve already received, like the offer letter, benefits materials, or employment agreement (if you have one). Of course, if you’ve studied those materials closely, and you still don’t understand a particular point, by all means ask.

Because you don’t want to spend all of your negotiation energy asking questions, be sure that you’re only asking ones in that first category. Other questions can wait until your negotiations are complete, and perhaps even until after you start your job.

Step 3: Make Requests

This is the part of the salary negotiation conversation where you ask for what you want. Some folks want to skip right to this point, but trust me: having the other wrap-around elements in your conversation will serve you well.

Be firm yet kind in your requests. Don’t use words like “feel” and “believe,” just get straight to the point (without being a jerk, of course).

Here’s one of my favorite ways to negotiate a base pay increase: “Based on my research, jobs like this are paid between $X and $Y in the marketplace. Given my background/education/experience, I’m targeting the higher end of that range. How close can we get to that?”

There’s lots of neuroscience packed into that phrasing, but know that being clear and direct – and kind – works well in negotiation. My recruiter friends tell me that they love it when candidates display this level of confidence (although they really don’t like brash cockiness).

Don’t expect that the person you’re negotiating with can answer all of your requests in this first conversation. It does happen sometimes, but more often than not, they’ll need to go back to see if and how the company can respond to your asks.

Step 4: End on an Up Note

While it feels great to have all of your requests out there, this last step in your salary negotiation conversation is crucial. In fact, ending well may be the most important part of the conversation!

Thank your recruiter or hiring manager for their efforts, and show your optimism for a good outcome. You can say, “I so appreciate your help in answering my questions and getting my base pay increase request in front of the hiring manager. I’m confident we’ll be able to come up with a solution that works well for all of us.”

And don’t forget to set a time to check back in. There’s nothing worse than waiting (and waiting!) for your contact to get back to you. So, if they don’t offer a time to regroup, take matters into your own hands. It’s perfectly fine to say something like: “I’d love to schedule a time to follow up with you on this. How does Thursday afternoon look for you? Would 3:00 work?”

Want even more tips on negotiating your salary? Check out my new book, “Pay Up! Unlocking Insider Secrets of Salary Negotiation.”