Before you subscribe to the notion you can only inquire about more zeros on your paychecks once a year in review season, remember ‘tis always the season to negotiate your net worth. Especially in times of great stress or change, where the job description you were hired to meet is just a mere bullet point in your current list of responsibilities, taking the step to discuss your salary is encouraged. But even more important than standing up for your career and the finances you’ve (more than) earned, approaching the conversation in a professional, yet steadfast, manner can make-or-break your employer’s reaction to your request.
In fact, career experts argue the specific phrases and words you select when setting up this sometimes-tense meeting with your manager is the most important aspect of asking for a raise.
“The language that you choose has a direct impact on the way that your boss will receive and interpret your message,” explains Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert says. “You should be assertive without coming off as cocky or self-serving as you share the specific reasons why you are worthy of the increase.”
Here, Hakim shares her professional insights on what you should avoid when making your case for a higher pay grade:
“I want a raise.” (Period)
There are plenty of givens in a working environment: you have a boss, you might have a direct-report. You will have a place to settle in daily, whether a shared, open area, an office or a cubicle. You’ll have goals to meet and projects to complete. And at some point, the finances you agreed to on your offer letter will feel too low compared to your output.
Hakim says it’s never a surprise to a manager — at any level — that an employee would ask for a raise. As an expected trajectory in any career, moving up the so-called corporate ladder, responding to inquiries for raises is part of your boss’s role. That’s why simply stating that you’d like a raise is a no-no. Much like stating the obvious, your higher-ups know everyone would appreciate more cold-hard cash, but it has to be hard-earned, too.
“It is your job to share why it is of benefit for the boss and for the company for him or her to give you a raise,” she says.
This doesn’t mean you should spew off a laundry list to back up your argument, complete with a dissertation, but rather, Hakim says to have a clear, to-the-point case for yourself that you can present in person. In addition to language you use, having proof in the form of percentage change or growth can help sway your boss to step up to bat for you with their chief.
“Erika got a raise, so I thought…”
If you work in an environment where many of your colleagues have the same amount of experience you do, it’s probably likely you’ll discuss your salaries at some point. Or, someone will begin a wildfire rumor that a water cooler chat can’t extinguish. This can make jealousy run rapid, especially if someone on your team was granted a raise — and you weren’t -— and you feel their contribution isn’t as great. As tempting as it is to call your manager out on what you deem a mistake or an insight on your performance, Hakim says to keep the raise conversation about you — and only you.
“Recognize that everyone has different circumstances and different levels of performance. When speaking with your boss, do not compare yourself to others. Rather, focus on your own accomplishments and dedication to the team and company,” she shares.
“If you don’t give me a raise, I’m quitting.”
Instead of explaining in detail the myriad of examples that showcase your abilities and accomplishments at your company, it might seem tempting to take a slightly more aggressive route and pose a threat instead of a talking point.
Hakim has one word for that route: DON’T.
Hakim says never ever give your employe an ultimatum unless you’re prepared for any outcome, including one that ends with an early ticket to happy hour, sans employment. When you play hardball, Hakim says you could be let go or arguably even worse, you keep your job with a boss who now resents your attitude, passes you over for every promotion and won’t be a positive reference for your next gig.
Instead, express how important the raise and recognition are to your future at the company and your continued dedication to meeting both your company’s goals and your unique professional timeline. Hakim suggests this approach, ‘Boss, I like to keep my work life and personal life separate, but suffice it to say, a raise would truly help me to….’
“You need me.”
Repeat after Hakim when she says, every person in a company is replaceable, even the CEO. So even if you tend to feel like you expertly manage relationships with marketing, technology, customer service and the executives, going into the raise chat deeming yourself a mandatory part of the company likely won’t end in your favor.
“Don’t forget that a humble, team-focused demeanor will get you much further than will a cocky attitude. Rather, share how much you enjoy working on the boss’s team,” she says.
This is where the compliment sandwich mentality you learned ages ago will come in handy, as Hakim suggest starting out your speech with, ‘Boss, I truly appreciate the way that we work together to get the job done. I feel proud to be the team lead and am thrilled that we hit our numbers early this quarter…’
Write it in an email
Facing confrontation, whether it be with a wishy-washy client, a disingenuous college or a selfish friend is part of life. More likely than not, asking for a raise will make your heart race, your palms sweat and possibly, produce unfounded doubt that could cause you to chicken out. For sure, an easier way to request a raise is to type it out in an e-mail, requiring no face-to-face conversation, but Hakim says it’s a grim mistake to make if you’re truly seeking recognition and reward for your work.
“The reason for in-person dialogue is because when interacting one-on-one, you can rely on social cues to note verbal and nonverbal reactions to your message. If your boss just reads your written message, then she may place different intonation or emphasis on certain words, and may not grasp the true intent of your writing,” she says.