In the story “How to Frame Your Request for a Raise,” Margaret Ann Neale, Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Lisa Gates, cofounder of the negotiation, coaching, and leadership firm She Negotiates, shared a few pieces of advice with Convene about approaching your boss for a salary increase.
Couch your request as a multi-issue package, they advised, and frame it as a way to solve a problem for the boss and firm as well as yourself.
Now for part two: What to do if the boss says “no.” Your response depends on what your boss means by that. Is it no to a raise, but yes to other things? No, not now? It’s not in the budget? Your work doesn’t merit a raise? Or, no, but…?
Let’s take them one at a time.
‘No raise, but …’
You presented a package request. The boss nixed the raise but agreed to, say, the cellphone and the part-time assistant part of your package. Don’t let the brass cherry-pick your package apart, Neale, author of Getting More of What You Want, said. Yoke issues together. Say, “Okay; if you get this, I get that,” she said. “Never make an unmet concession.”
And if management won’t budge about the salary portion? Well, at least you got those other things. That’s better than asking for a raise alone and getting nothing. “A package expands the negotiating territory.” Neale said. “The probability that you get something goes up when you put it in a package and frame it as helping to solve an organizational problem.”
Before Jamie Lee branched out on her own as a New York City–based leadership and negotiation coach, she joined a small company where the firm’s HR people knew her salary at her last organization. Before accepting the position, she asked for 25 percent more. The answer was no, which, she said, she took to mean not now, since “they didn’t have the wherewithal.” She joined with no bump in salary, but HR promised to revisit the issue. And when the company received investor funding, Lee got the 25-percent increase in salary that she had originally requested.
“That shows the power of the anchoring effect: Ask for a specific amount, and that’s what people will remember,” Lee said. “The brain always reverts to the first bit of reasonable information that entered the conversation.”
What if you’re already at the company when the boss says “not now?” First, instead of getting defensive, Gates said, ask diagnostic questions to learn what’s up, such as “Is there anything I need to be aware of?” Open-ended questions will help you understand the boss’s challenges, fears, and goals — all useful information. Second, create a timeline for revisiting — maybe in three to six months; certainly shorter than a year.
‘Sorry, no money’
If there’s no room in the budget for a raise, look for other areas to tap, Gates suggested. Perhaps it’s a new computer? Company cellphone? Remote work, more vacation, complex or high-profile work, more interesting projects, development or training, conference registration, a bonus?
If you followed the recommendation to package your request, any or all of these may have been in your ask already. Either way, “it goes back to your research,” Gates said. “Make a prioritized list of wants so you can trade things of value: If not this, then how about that? Ask open-ended questions to find the yes in their no.”
Look beyond your own job for possibilities. “If there’s a bonus structure a level up from you, you could make the case for a bonus and title change rather than a raise,” Gates said. “Here’s the value of that: If they’re super tight on money and no is everywhere, now you have a title bump and experience at that level that you might be able to parlay into a job at another organization.”
Plus, you never know. During the Great Recession, Stanford announced there would be no raises. “So people went out and got other offers. If Stanford wanted them to stay, it gave them raises,” Neale said. “Amazing.”
‘You don’t deserve it’
This is where stress hormones kick in. With threats to self-esteem and professional identity, your gut reaction may be to run, cry, or flip over a table, Lee said. Instead, just breathe. “A big part of handling negotiations is managing your own reaction,” she said. “Allow for negative emotion to pass without reacting in a negative way that … ruins your reputation at work.”
Listen calmly, Lee said, and, echoing Gates’ advice to ask open-ended questions, say: “Tell me more. I want to understand your point of view. I’m committed to understanding my performance. How can I improve in these areas? Will you help me on this?” This last question signals that you respect the bosses as people in authority who can help, which can neutralize tension and help them feel empathy toward you. It can also add to the sense that you’re on the same side.
Then be sure to say that you expect negotiations to continue, Neale said, so your boss knows that “this is reciprocal. When you meet the demands, you’ll be back.”
Unless you don’t want to be. If you’re hitting the wall of no a lot — or having to say no yourself to unreasonable demands — maybe it’s time to leave. Too many women stay in a bad work situation because they fear being perceived negatively if they get out, she said. Neale recommends saving an emergency fund (or what a viral 2016 article in The Billfold called a “f— off fund”), so you can walk if necessary.
‘No, but …’
This is the best kind of no, because it means, “No, but we can compromise.”
At another job, Lee once asked for a $20,000 increase. The higher-ups said, “We can’t do that, but we can do $15,000.” That was fine. After reading Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation — and Positive Strategies for Change by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, she’d intentionally aimed higher than her target and created wiggle room in the negotiation.
Do your homework first, and don’t go too far over, Lee cautioned. “Look at how well the company is doing financially — is it profitable, is it funded, what’s the going range; the higher the salary, the bigger the range,” she said. “If there are pay bands, shoot for the next one up. Build a case for how you can add more value at the next pay band with more responsibilities.”
Ellen Ryan is a freelance writer based in Rockville, Maryland.