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One person stands between you and your next salary increase or promotion - your boss! It’s your direct supervisor who can pull the strings to either grant or deny your chance for advancement. But to get what you want, you have to ask for it.
Despite this truth, recent research has found that the majority of people — nearly 80% — feel uncomfortable discussing salary and other employment terms.
At its core, the act of asking your superior for something important to your career progression may make you feel vulnerable — yet summoning the courage to do so actually demonstrates strength. Whether you seek more money, higher status, increased visibility, additional resources, or more time off, you likely won’t get it if you don’t specifically ask your boss for it. What’s more, when it comes to achieving the next step up in pay, position, or preferences, many bosses expect you to ask for what you want directly. Asking shows both self-confidence and respect for your boss by acknowledging that you’re requesting, not just expecting, help.
Here are a few tips on actually having that conversation with your boss.
Avoid assumptions by asking the right questions. Successful negotiation is not just about being willing to ask for what you want, but approaching your “ask” strategically. A poor strategy is approaching negotiations one-dimensionally, focusing only on your own desired outcomes. Instead, you should take a collaborative approach, building a clear bridge between your boss’s concerns and your request. The best way to do this is to prepare to pose a few open questions that explore your boss’s view of the world. When formulating these questions, be curious about how to make your request a win-win. For example, you might try using phrases that imply joint success, such as:
However, in keeping your boss’s perspective in mind, be careful not to spend too much time listening passively, or go overboard with the questioning. The key is to find the perfect balance between listening and asking questions, ultimately steering the discussion toward an answer.
Gather context through open dialogue. Getting the lay of the land directly from your manager before asking for what you want can help you formulate a better strategy. Initiate an open dialogue tailored to the specific points you plan to soon negotiate. For example, if you’re targeting a promotion, you might ask something like this:
This type of question can open the door to the possibility of your boss revealing valuable information to guide your future negotiation. For example, your boss may tell you that there is currently a freeze on promotions, but it’s an avenue that can be explored in six months. In this case, you’ll then know that the timing is wrong to negotiate for a promotion right now — so you can shift gears to ask for something else, or pose other questions to help you gather the information you need to improve your chances of getting what you want down the road. For example, some questions you might next ask include:
Use “what if” responses. One way to build on your boss’s responses during the open dialogue stage is to have some “what if” responses ready to go. “What if” responses give you a way to further the conversation by suggesting specific actions that you might take when your boss makes a general suggestion. For example, if your boss says that you need more cross-functional experience before you can advance, you might reply with an exact strategy that you could implement to get that experience such as:
Involving your boss in your request using the “what if” tactic will help gain his or her buy-in and commitment with a tangible plan that can be tracked and monitored.
Let the conversation evolve. Even if you execute a perfect ask, there may be circumstances beyond your control that cause your boss to reject your request. Don’t become so fixated on achieving your ultimate goal that you leave possible chips on the table. Keep an eye out for viable backup plans that emerge as the conversation unfolds. Even if you get a “no” response to your original request, you can still leave the negotiation with a small win that may put you on the path to an eventual “yes.” Your goal should be to avoid ending up in a position where the response is a final “no.”
For example, if you ask for a salary bump, proving through your internal and external market research why you deserve one, yet your boss responds that there’s no budget for raises in the department currently, you might shift the conversation to requesting more flexibility in your job, a benefit option, or paid continuing education in an area that supports your career goals.
Even if you accept a Plan B as a result of your current negotiation with your boss, that’s no reason to give up completely on what you really want. If your manager denies your request the first time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that “no” is the final answer.
No matter your perceived level of expertise in negotiation or which style you use to go about it, there is power in simply moving beyond your nervousness and starting a conversation with your boss about what you want. By doing so, you’ll begin to build both your skill level and confidence, preparing you for future negotiations.
While you may not get what you want every time, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.