How to Negotiate Without Making the Boss Mad at You

by Jen Hubley Luckwaldt

How to Negotiate Nicely

Seventy-five percent of people who ask for a raise, get one – so why aren't we all beating down the boss's door to make our case for a higher salary? In part, it's because of fear.

Of respondents to PayScale's survey who reported that they'd never asked for a raise in their current field, 28 percent said it was because they were uncomfortable negotiating salary, and 19 percent said that it was because they'd be perceived as pushy. Eight percent even said they were afraid that by asking, they'd wind up out of a job. 

Given that 44 percent of those who asked for a bump got the whole sum they requested, it seems strange that workers would be afraid to ask for more money. To understand why, we have to consider the climate in which they're negotiating (or more often, choosing not to negotiate).

The unemployment rate has hovered around 5 percent for the past few months, but that isn't the total picture of the job market. In addition to measuring the number of workers who've filed for unemployment each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers alternative measures of labor underutilization, tracking those workers who are not eligible for or at least did not file for unemployment compensation. When we measure unemployment including people who are marginally attached to the workforce, those who are employed part-time for economic reasons, plus workers who receive unemployment, the rate is close to 10 percent

It's also important to note that while 23 percent of workers were laid off during the recession, according to the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, nearly eight out of 10 workers had a friend, family member, or acquaintance who was laid off during that time. Given this environment, it's not strange that workers might hesitate to do anything that might stand in the way of getting or keeping a job.

And then, of course, there are the stories about candidates who attempted to negotiate starting pay, only to have the job offer rescinded. Regarding those cases, Alison Green of Ask a Manager says, "It happens, but it's very rare."

"And when it does happen, it's because either the employer wasn't reasonable (in which case that's not a place you would have been happy working anyway) or there was a problem with the way you negotiated (you sounded rude or out of touch)," she says. "But assuming that you're professional and polite and you sound interested in the job when you negotiate, no sane employer will yank an offer just because you asked for reasonable amount more."

That word – "reasonable" – might be the key to negotiating, whether you're angling for a higher starting salary at a new job or trying to get a raise at the job you have. This is not to say that asking for more money is out of line – just the opposite, in fact. But in order to have the highest odds of success, you'll need to come prepared both with knowledge of your value on the job market (PayScale's Salary Survey is a good place to start) and a plan for delivering your case in terms your boss or hiring manager can understand.

That means you should:   

1. Understand company policy.

In addition to doing your research to determine what other people in your industry and location are earning, you need to know how things are done at your company.

"Before you ask for a raise or any other perks, even time off, it is important to understand what the company policy is, who in the department or company has been successful in achieving the raise and how they approached the situation with the boss," says Hannah Morgan, founder of Career Sherpa. "Armed with this information, you'll know what worked. You should also understand the company's financial situation. If the company isn't doing well, getting a raise, no matter how well-deserved it may be, might be unlikely."

In addition, Morgan says, you should try to make sure that your salary range is in line with other employees in your department and at your organization.

2. Build a case based on data, not emotions.

"The most important thing is to lay out a case for why you've earned it and how you've been contributing at a higher level than when your salary was last set," says Green. "You want to build that based on work that you've already done, not work that you're promising to do in the future, and you want to keep it tied to work, not personal financial needs, like that your rent is going up. Keep it all about why your value to the company has increased and why your compensation should reflect that."

Morgan also says that it's important to "know how your work impacted the bottom line. How did your performance affect productivity, profitability, efficiency, or have an impact on the organization? Document specific examples of times you've gone above and beyond and what the quantifiable outcome was. For example, if you worked all weekend to meet a last minute deadline and the client/customer was thrilled with the report, use their email or quote their feedback."

3. Put yourself in your boss's shoes.

In salary negotiations, as in life, timing is everything. If your company or department is struggling, or your boss has recently asked for a raise (or even been asked to do more work for the same money, or achieve better results with fewer resources), he or she will not be excited to hear your request.

When the time is right, ask for a meeting with your boss. It's crucial to schedule this conversation in advance, Morgan explains, because you don't want your boss to feel blindsided.

"During your meeting, state your case and justification for asking for a pay increase," says Morgan. "Don't be defensive, aggressive or apologetic. You are making a request, not an ultimatum. Be sure to give your manager a chance to respond, by asking an open-ended question, like 'Based on this performance over the past 12 months, what can be done to increase my salary?' This puts the power/control back in the hands of your boss." 

Finally, Avoid These 3 Mistakes:

1. Setting an emotional tone for the meeting.

"When an employee goes in to the meeting with their boss emotionally charged (angry) and demands a raise, that can be the kiss of death," Morgan says. "This can put your boss on the defensive, rather than wanting to support you."

2. Being a pushover.

"Don't be a pushover either," she cautions. "If you have done an exceptional job, and others in your group have gotten raises, your request is not out of line. State the facts and evidence to support your case. Bringing up how much other people make should NEVER be brought up during the discussion."

3. Referring to personal finances.

Finally, your money situation outside of work should never enter into the discussion.

"Your personal finances are also taboo," Morgan says. "Don't mention a new mortgage, higher bills, child support payments or increases in your personal expenses. Those are not your boss's concern."

Jen Hubley-Luckwaldt

About the Author
Jen Hubley Luckwaldt writes about work-life balance, stress management, and other topics relating to what makes us happy at work. A full-time freelancer, she deals with stress by blurring the lines between life and work to the point where the two spheres are barely separate. The happiest day of her career was when scientists proved that looking at pictures of cute animals makes us more productive.