Get the Most From Your Next Salary Negotiation

Tips on initiating a conversation with your manager and articulating your value

7 December 2016

Here’s a painful yet common occurrence: You discover that a coworker who doesn’t seem to work as hard as you do (or as well) earns a higher salary—perhaps a lot higher. Or maybe you feel stuck: You think you’ve brought a lot of value to the company, but your manager isn’t offering a raise or promotion. What should you do?

GET OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT

First, here’s what you shouldn’t do: Tell your boss about the pay disparity or blurt out that you’re not making enough and want a raise. That not only creates an awkward situation but also puts your manager in the defensive position of justifying one person’s salary over another’s. There very well might be legitimate reasons for the difference. For example, if you’re comparing your earnings to someone else in a similar position, that person might have negotiated a higher starting salary. You, on the other hand, might have accepted what was offered when you joined the company.

Instead, first validate from outside sources that your salary is indeed below where it should be. Glassdoor, Salary.com, and other websites can make it easy to gather that information. Then, ask for a meeting with your manager.

At the meeting, start by articulating the value you bring to the company. You should discuss your accomplishments and the effect they have had. That might be time saved, revenue increased, costs cut, the impact you’ve had on the company’s brand—things that truly matter to the business.

Follow that up with positive comments about why you like working for the company and, in particular, for your manager. And then say something like this: “One thing is troubling me. I feel that, given my role and the impact my work is having, I’m undercompensated. And I’d really like your help so that we can address this.”

THE POWER OF SILENCE

A successful salary renegotiation always starts with your knowing at least two points: You’re being paid less than your market value, and your accomplishments are having a positive effect on the company. If this holds true, you’ll find your salary renegotiation is simpler than otherwise.

A great way to get a raise or promotion is first to elaborate clearly the difference you’re making, as well as your desire to contribute even more to the organization. Then ask for the amount you want, but phrased in a way that makes it clear the increase will enable you not only to be more motivated but also to have an even greater impact.

Your manager will either agree to look into your request, or she’ll say she can’t offer you a raise at that time.

No matter how your manager responds, say nothing. That can be hard because silence feels awkward. But silence can be useful: The silence is begging to be filled, and your manager will fill it. She may come back with a willingness to explore your situation further, perhaps meet you halfway, or with a justification for why the company cannot increase your salary—all of which can be helpful.

If it’s a justification for why the company can’t pay you more (for example, the salary budget is fixed and no money is left) then that information can lead to the two of you brainstorming other ways to address the issue—with a performance bonus, say, or extra vacation time. The conversation also might lead to a discussion about whether you are on the right path to a promotion and what you must do to get there.

Following that, here are questions you can ask to help move the discussion forward:

  • What is the salary range for someone in my position, and is that range fixed?
  • Have exceptions been made, and if so, what qualities did that person have?
  • What skills and level of responsibility are required for the next pay grade?
  • If a salary increase is not an option at this time, can we negotiate other benefits, such as vacation time?

These questions can promote a discussion that not only will help you better understand what’s going on in your company but also help you develop a better rapport with your manager.

A TWO-WAY STREET

Here’s another question—perhaps the most powerful one—that can truly help create a collaborative environment for moving the discussion forward: “How can we close the gap?” The gap refers to the space between what you feel is fair and what the company is offering.

Note the focus is on we. This is the core of collaborative negotiation. Within this framework, there are no winners or losers—just you and your manager figuring out ways to create a win-win situation.

Remember, the company wants and needs you. It wouldn’t have hired you, or continued to employ you, if that weren’t the case. A collaborative negotiation is a way to find a solution that keeps you motivated while remaining within the company’s budget.

And remember that salary is just one piece of the puzzle. You also can consider perks such as extra time off, flexible hours, or incentive pay (for achieving certain milestones in a given time).

If the company won’t budge on any of your requests, and you still want to work there, ask for a review in six months to assess your contributions. Be sure to ask what you would need to accomplish in those six months to warrant an increase.

Anthony Gold is a career coach, entrepreneur, investor, and philosopher who recently cofounded ROAR for Good, a social-impact company in Philadelphia developing smart jewelry to reduce assaults and empower women. He is also a regular blogger for The Institute.

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