Of all of the potentially awkward conversations that one can have at work, asking for a raise ranks only slightly behind firing someone in terms of discomfort. No one likes going to their boss and asking for more money. If the conversation goes well, it’s great. If it doesn’t, or if your boss can’t (or won’t) increase your pay, then the disappointment often comes with a side of embarrassment and resentment.
Many experts have advice on how to ask for a raise successfully, and much of it is good. You need evidence that you deserve a pay increase, such as testimonials and outlines of successful projects. Demonstrating in quantitative terms how much you’ve grown and improved is a good idea. And of course, you need to do your homework to ensure that what you’re asking for is in line with the going rate for your position, industry, and region.
Still, there is always a chance that your boss is going to turn you down. That’s why you need to be prepared to use psychology to improve your chances of getting a raise.
The Psychology of the Workplace
When you hear the phrase “use psychology,” you probably think of reverse psychology (as in “if you don’t give me this raise, I’ll quit”) which rarely works, to manipulate your boss into doing what you want. That’s not exactly what it means.
The concept of psychology in the workplace is not a new one. Industrial organizational psychologists devote themselves to understanding how organizations function, exploring how concepts like team dynamics, education, and training, diversity, leadership, and change affect how a company operates. I-O psychologists help employees at all levels understand how the human mind works, and use that information to improve performance and maintain a healthy environment.
What does this have to do with asking for a raise? Well, when you understand how people think, and what motivates them to behave the way they do (yourself included) you’re better prepared to frame your request in such a way that gets a positive response. When you aren’t intimidated and nervous, but rather well prepared and confident, it comes across, and your boss is more likely to respond positively.
Putting Psychology to Work
Know your boss’s priorities. One of the fundamentals of sales is to use a prospect’s own language to demonstrate how you can fulfill their needs. For example, if someone says, “I’m looking for a simple solution,” a good salesperson will highlight the simplicity of his or her product. You can do the same in when you request a raise by knowing your boss’s priorities and weaving them into your request.
For example, if she has mentioned that the company is having difficulty managing social media, you would say, “I know you’ve had difficulty with our social media presence, and here is how I can help.” You’re showing familiarity with the company, as well as evidence that you’re in tune with the company, and tapping into your boss’s emotions — all points in your favor.
Frame your request as a question of feasibility. Instead of coming out and asking for a raise, pose the question in terms of an exploration of the possibility of a raise.
For example, asking whether it’s possible for your boss to review your current pay rate doesn’t put him on the spot to answer right away (which he may not be able to do) and opens up the door to a conversation of what you would need to do to earn a raise if it’s not immediately possible.
Mirror behavior. Part of successfully negotiating a raise is to create a sense of “we” instead of “me vs. you.” One effective way to do that is to mirror your boss’ behavior, in terms of body language and speech. Now, obviously you do not want to imitate or mock her, but pay attention to the clues your boss provides about her communication style.
People who use many gestures, for example, tend to be visual communicators, so presenting your case using charts and graphs. By watching and mirroring your boss’s nonverbal communication, you show you’re in accord and can communicate more effectively.
Of course, every workplace is different, and you know best how your boss will respond. However, asking for a raise doesn’t have to be scary — and if you deserve more money, it’s important to ask. Use psychology to take the intimidation out of the equation, and improve your career (and bank account) in the process.
Questions: When was the last time you asked for a raise? How did it go? What other strategies do you think would help you get a raise?