What To Say When Asking For A Raise, And How To Ask

Gustav Jonsson
What To Say When Asking For A Raise, And How To Ask

In our careers, we often reach a point when it’s fair to ask for a raise. Sometimes we put in extra effort and time to produce results above and beyond what the employer expected. Other times, we’re given responsibilities beyond our original job description.

There are many reasons why we might desire a raise, and just as many reasons why an employer might deny that request. Luckily, there’s loads of advice out there, from academic scholars to former FBI hostage negotiators, to help us navigate these potentially difficult conversations.

Speaking to Build Rapport

Chris Voss led international hostage negotiations for the FBI before founding the Black Swan Group which brings hostage negotiation techniques into the business world. In an interview with Bouree Lam of The Atlantic he discusses how to use these tools when asking for a raise. It is important to begin by using “we” and other communal language, as it encourages a partnership between both parties. It illustrates that they are connected in some way and have a shared interest.

Generally, this is a fairly persuasive technique and – as The International Negotiation Handbook illustrates – persuasion is key to negotiation. To illustrate the power of persuasion, I used communal language at the beginning of this post to establish a rapport with you, the reader, in order that you’d be persuaded to continue reading.

Using persuasive tools such as these without the other party realising puts you at an advantage in almost any situation, including a negotiation for a raise. But communal language alone is not enough – there must be rapport between both parties. Janice Nadler of Northwestern University in her article Rapport in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution defines rapport as “mutual positivity and interest”; that means being “in sync” with whoever is on the other side of the negotiating table. Ultimately, it leads to feelings of positivity and cooperation.

The building of rapport means the fostering of a mutual partnership between perceived equals. Voss tells us that being personable and likeable is the key toward getting the raise, and that is because these things build rapport. In order to get what you want without force or over-coercion, the other person needs to like you. This means connecting with your employer emotionally while still pushing for the raise. It’s a delicate balancing act:

„If I say something to you with a smile, I know you’re more likely to collaborate than if I’m being really direct … that’s exactly what a hostage negotiator does. The more easy [sic] we are, the more reassuring we are, the harder we can push.”— Chris Voss

The purpose is to impact the other party both intellectually and emotionally. If an employee feels good about the person they’re talking to, they’re more likely to give that person a raise. But Voss tells us that this connection needs to deepen beyond the here-and-now. The partnership needs to become collaboration. To do this, you must illustrate that you care about the firm not only your own well-being.

Ask yourself how your presence at the company has and will continue to generate profit and reduce costs. By focusing on your contributions in this way, the employer will perceive you as someone who has a shared stake in the firm. Establishing a point of connection is important. When it relates to the firm for which both parties work, that connective tissue deepens and strengthens.

Choosing Your Words Carefully

Remaining silent can also be beneficial during negotiations. Nadler tells us that using non-verbal and para-verbal behaviors can help to build rapport. Smiling, laughing, making eye contact, and using body language can create an emotional connection. However, when you do speak, always be aware that the words used can be perceived differently than you intend.

For example, Voss states that the word “fairness” can be used to elicit either a positive or negative emotional response depending on how it is used. If you yell “That’s not fair!” the response will be perceived negatively and the other party might feel insulted. On the other hand, saying, “That sounds fair” to a point the employer makes can create a positive connection, or it might suggest that you agree with something when you do not.

Be cautious when choosing what words you use and in what context. You also need to be aware that your employer might not respond positively to your request for a raise. If hostility ensues, remain calm and avoid personal attacks or saying anything that could be considered defamatory, offensive, or inappropriate. Try to diffuse the situation by listening to what your employer says and gather important information. Even if they are angry, they might be telling you exactly what you need to say to get your raise. You might just need to remain silent for a moment. If they attack you or your character, it might be difficult to say nothing but if you do, you might only make the situation worse.

The International Negotiations Handbook holds that when a personal attack is made against you that you respond professionally, do not become emotional, state that the comment was unacceptable, and move on with the negotiation without responding in kind.

Beyond insults, an employer might say that there is no money in the budget for the raise. It is not wise to throw financial data in his face that proves the contrary, even if it exists. This will only make the employer feel as if they are being attacked. Voss recommends saying “It seems like there’s nothing you can do.” This is meant to make the employer feel undesired and powerlessness.

To regain power, they may be more willing to negotiate a raise. Another response may be to suggest that you and the firm wait to revisit the issue at a later date. To this, Voss recommends asking “How am I supposed to do that?”. The employer may answer positively and rethink their original position or state that you have no choice in the matter. In the latter instance, important information has still been gained.

Notes on Setting

Now that we know how to ask for a raise, we must decide when and where to do so. An electronic medium is not as desirable as face-to-face communication.

While Nadler does illustrate that rapport can be built without the other party being physically present, their absence means that it will be more difficult to gauge their reactions, thought patterns and emotions.

Further, it is wise to ask for a raise at a time when it’s appropriate. A performance review, for example, is the perfect venue to practice these negotiating skills. After all, at a performance review, the firm may already be willing to offer a raise which is less likely to be true if you schedule a meeting to solicit one. Of course, a performance review may be months away, and you may be doing a large amount of work beyond what was agreed upon. In this case, it might be fair to schedule a meeting with a representative of the firm to discuss your pay.

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