And it's not just a money thing.
Asking for a raise is never easy; many would rather do something stupid like speak in public or bungee jump off a shady-looking bridge than politely inquire about maybe getting more money for services rendered. But having been a boss and having coached a bunch of bosses, I can say with certainty that being asked for a raise is not a bundle of fun, either.
If your goal is to successfully negotiate a compensation increase for yourself, consider this a preliminary guide to what not to do:
1. Never show up unprepared for the conversation.
“Do you think there’s any chance I could get a raise?” said to your boss while in line at Chipotle, is not a good way to open this important discussion.
There is a relationship between preparation and success in this kind of conversation. Set a specific meeting time with your boss to discuss, and make sure there’s enough time left in the meeting to give the topic the time it takes (so, don’t make it the last agenda item with four minutes until the hour is up). Have your talking points ready, including measurable ways to demonstrate how you’ve done a fantastic job in the last year. Take notes during the conversation, and be prepared for questions &/or pushback. Show you’ve done your homework.
2. Never bring your personal finances into the conversation.
“My rent is going up next month,” is not a reason for your boss to approve a 5% increase for you. Neither is “Kimmie is starting private school in the fall, and I so I need a bump,” or “My Thailand trip really wiped my bank account out.”
When you justify a raise request with a personal reason, your boss is likely to shut down. The issue is that you think there’s a link between your personal financial state and your job– kind of as though your boss is like your parent who arbitrarily decides what to give you for an allowance– whereas your boss only sees a link between what you’re paid and how you perform.
If compensation was based on one’s lifestyle or bank balance, we’d be paying parents with more kids more money and decreasing the comp packages of the third of young adults still living at home with their parents. We’d be paying the 45% of people who actually take their vacation days each year more, because, well, how else are they going to pay for the Holiday Inn Express and tickets to SeaWorld?
Always, always, always focus on the value you’ve brought to the organization as the basis of your compensation increase request. Never, never, never make it about your lifestyle, even if that’s what’s driving your desire for more money.
3. Never compare yourself to someone else when the comparison is baseless.
“Gregg and I started at the same time and I know he’s making $3,600 more than me.”
This kind of intro usually spikes the blood pressure of the boss being asked for the raise. If Gregg has been killing it and you’ve been just showing up, you need to be honest with yourself about whether he’s simply worth more than you.
Sometimes there is confusion about why you’re earning “x” and your colleagues are earning “y,” and if you feel you’re performing at par or better, then there is a way to ask for information without making your boss defensive. “Can you help me understand the compensation/rewards structure? I admit to being confused about how it works, especially between levels and peers. I want to continue to do great work and know how I can align my comp with my performance.”
Sometimes the Gregg's of the world are earning $3,600 more than you because they asked for a raise last November and you didn’t. That’s rough, and it’s another opportunity to ask yourself if Gregg has been out-performing you. You can proceed with your raise request while focusing on your performance and leaving Gregg nowhere near the discussion. Only you can decide if you’ve been valuable enough to the company to warrant an increase. Would you give you a raise?
If you think there is a deeper discriminatory issue at your company around compensation, that’s a different conversation that needs to happen with your boss and possibly your HR department.
4. Never lose it.
You’ve been thinking about– and perhaps stewing about– your raise request for a full 100% longer than your boss, who just finished her last meeting and has more important things on her mind than what you take home each pay period. Be careful not to make this an emotional exchange, when it should be all about the numbers and the facts (like how you’ve reached your objectives in the last calendar year and saved the company x%).
You might be at the end of your rope, but now’s not the time to launch into the, “If I don’t get this increase I am going to start looking,” diatribe, or the, “I’ve been overlooked for six years now, and this is unfair and I’m such a victim,” monologue.
Be clear on the points you want to make. Enter into the conversation with a rational request. Seek to understand the points your boss makes. Drink decaf beforehand. Slow things down if you’re feeling edgy, and encourage a continued conversation after a break if you want time to process any new information. If for some reason you don’t get the raise and it’s a deal-breaker for you, don’t threaten to leave in that moment (or you’ll just look like you’re erratic and emotional). Digest the information and then regroup for a Part Two Conversation.
Asking for money can be challenging because we often feel like we have no control; our boss is in the position to decide our financial fate, right? True, mostly. But we’re in control of the work we do on the job every day, and the way we confidently present what we think we’re worth. If we don’t ask, we don’t get. And if we ask wrong, we also don’t get. Go forth and ask right!