How to ask for a Raise
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How to ask for a Raise

on 30 November 2020

​‘Please sir, can I have some more?’ Do you remember the tension in that scene by Charles Dickens, when the young Oliver Twist dares to ask for more food? Negotiating about money is at the very top of the discomfort zone.

Still, anyone who wants to live with relative satisfaction in the business world must learn to do it – coolly, calmly, and with goodwill. And like anything else, negotiating for money becomes easier as you gain more experience doing it. Once you’re convinced that you deserve a raise, obtaining it is primarily a communication problem. The thought ‘Joe deserves a raise’ must be transferred from your mind to the mind of the person who decides how much money will be in your paycheque. Unfortunately, that other person is likely to resist your idea because she’s rewarded for controlling costs, not for approving raises. Overcoming such resistance will require determination and patience.

Ask for a raise and ye shall receive

It’s amazing how few people actually do it. Sometimes people don’t want to put the boss on the spot, or run the risk of being turned down. But if you don’t ask, everybody thinks you’re satisfied. Most really good raises are won through organised campaigns, not by brief displays of verbal dexterity at evaluation time.

There are gender distinctions that influence how women approach seeking a raise. In our culture, for generations men have been more comfortable with demanding rather than inquiring. Demanding is tagged with the feeling that oneself has the power to get. Certainly, ‘inquiring’ does not have the same weight as ‘demanding’, nor does it have the same result. If women do not prepare for seeking a raise as if it were a demand, rather than an inquiry, they will always fall short.

So: be firm, not adversarial. All conversation has an inherent power structure. Depending on who has the upper hand, you should adopt one of two basic styles: approachable or authoritative. When you’re being approachable you respond, ask questions, avoid confrontation and use qualifiers (‘I think’, ‘maybe’, etc.). When you’re being authoritative you make statements, issue demands, argue, contradict and never qualify.

Top executives respond best to an authoritative style. The most effective approach is to blend the courtesy of an inquiry with the impact of a demand. Best body language: Stand face-to-face, with your bodies squared. Make direct eye contact and hold out your hand at the end of the meeting for a handshake. That shows confidence.

If you’ve never asked for a raise and aren’t sure you have the self-confidence to just flat out do it, a simple (and usually disarming) way to approach the matter of money is to tell your manager, “I’m interested in asking for a raise. How would you do that if you were me?” More often than not this both breaks the ice and leads toward a friendly conversation about your compensation.

Salary and responsibility

Salary increases usually bring with them more work and responsibility. So learn new skills and seek additional responsibilities whenever you can, even if you are not in a position to get a raise or promotion immediately. After you have shown you can do the job, ask for the raise.

Find out what standards your boss uses for measuring performance. Only accomplishments your boss appreciates will motivate a raise. Concentrate your efforts in the areas (projects, skills, abilities, work habits) that your manager particularly values.

And working hard doesn’t necessarily earn raises either. If you have to work hard to accomplish what others do more easily, you may be admired for stretching, but you probably won’t receive a raise right away. Consider enrolling yourself in a training program for easier, quicker performance – and a future raise.

Getting the raise you deserve

It is not enough to just do good work; people need to know about your accomplishments. You should market yourself internally all year long, not just at review time or when you come from a position of anger and resentment. Make sure that your boss and other key people in the company know what you are doing. Build a case throughout the year for increasing your salary. Keep a record of your achievements and get them in front of your boss a few months before you are actually scheduled for your annual review. Note special accomplishments and particular victories. Quantify improvements where you can. Send copies of relevant memos to your boss and other key individuals. Share credit for your successes with your boss and your subordinates.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Don’t forget, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The bottom-line advice has to be: don’t give up. Keep working, patiently, to convince your manager that you do indeed deserve a raise. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have gained a powerful ally in persuading upper management to give it to you.

Whatever happens, keep your attitude and demeanour business-like. Win, lose, or draw, stand up and smile, shake hands and express your appreciation when the discussion is over.

Discussing career and salary with your manager is the best way to clarify what each of you expects of the other. And the subjects of money and career advancement that may seem threatening as one-time discussion topics can become reasonably comfortable if they are part of a continuing dialogue.

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