The crucial conversation that will get you a pay rise

Alan Palmer
Waitress Jennifer Aniston Does Not Enjoy Her Last Talk With Her Boss In A Scene Of Twentieth Centur
Realising we're all quite alike is your first step to success (Source: Getty)

A recent article drew attention to the aversion most of us feel about asking our boss for a pay rise (cleaning the house, going to the dentist or running a marathon were mentioned as preferable alternatives cited in research).

But while the article was long on tips on the kind of data to prepare beforehand, it was very short on advice on how actually to initiate the dreaded conversation in a way that’s comfortable for both parties, and which will maximise your chances of success.

The key to kicking off this kind of conversation – or in fact any kind of business conversation or meeting – is an understanding of how the other person likes to be spoken to. “Wait!” I hear you cry. “You don’t know my boss. How can you possibly know how they like to be spoken to?”

A fair point, but a flawed one. You’ve probably read all sorts of stuff about different ways of approaching different personality types – but luckily, for once, real life is actually simpler than what you’ve read in a book. It turns out that human beings of all types (and of all ages, genders, management levels, even nationalities and cultures) all have this much in common – if you asked them how they like to be spoken to, they’d all respond with something like: “clear, direct and straight to the point – as long as it’s also polite, courteous and respectful.” (If you don’t believe me, test the premise on a mixed bag of friends and acquaintances.)

So there are your guidelines. Admittedly, knowing you need to marry candour and courtesy is not the same as knowing how to do so – but read on and I’ll tell you.

Direct but respectful

The first thing to do is fix your meeting goal. But make sure it’s a proper goal, a measurable result to be achieved by the end of the meeting. “I want to discuss my salary prospects” is not an end-result, it’s merely a means to an (unannounced) end. “I want you to tell me you’ll be recommending me for a 10 per cent rise effective from 1 January” – that’s a proper meeting goal. And the only way of adhering to what you now know is your boss’s preference for directness is to announce your goal right at the beginning of the conversation. “I can’t say that!” I hear you counter. But you can.

The next thing you need to do (as the previous article on this topic recommended) is prepare your arguments, list your achievements and do the necessary benchmarking. And the third thing is to ask yourself how you’ll feel about announcing this meeting goal to your boss, given your relationship with him or her, but also given the strength of the case you’ve prepared.

And then you’re going to turn those three elements on their head, and your start to this difficult conversation may sound something like this:

“John, I want to talk to you about something which I’m extremely uncomfortable raising. But I’m also telling myself that if I don’t raise it, no-one else is going to do so on my behalf. So here goes. I’ve been thinking about my performance over the last 18 months, the achievements I’ve chalked up and the feedback you’ve given me. I’ve also done some benchmarking and I’ve thought about the firm’s overall financial position at the moment. And once I’ve taken you through all of that, I hope that you’ll tell me you’ll be happy to recommend me for a 10 per cent pay rise effective from 1 January. How does that sound to you?”

Clear and direct, yet polite and courteous. This is just the start of the meeting and there’s still a long way to go. It’s not a guarantee you’ll get your raise. But if a raise is objectively obtainable, at least in the way you start the conversation you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of getting it – and you’ll feel a lot more comfortable too.

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