How to Succeed at Business While Trying Rather a Lot, Actually
May 9, 2010 10:11 PM   Subscribe

How can I prepare for work situations that affect me materially, like salary negotiations, requesting a promotion and/or raise, asking to work on particular projects, etc.?

I don't have the opportunity to at the moment (salary freeze at my company, yeeha), but the next time I need to ask for something that materially affects my earnings or position at work, I want to be able to do it effectively. The last time I asked for a promotion, I was told yes immediately, but my boss took nearly four months to implement it. I followed up with my boss once a month after the initial request, and the third (and final) time, he told me to "hold my horses," and that it would happen soon (it finally did, about a week and a half later; I was still really galled by the "hold your horses" remark, given how long I'd already been waiting after being told it would happen*).

I want to be able to ask for these things in a way that gets results, but that also doesn't get responses like "hold your horses." How can I do that? I am particularly interested in skills that are helpful across many different types of negotiation or request (asking for a raise or lobbying for projects that I think are worthwhile, for example), rather than only applicable to one situation.

If it's relevant, I'm in my mid-20s and a woman, and I work for a man. I do not want to be an example of the stereotype that women earn less and are promoted less because they don't ask for things or because their asking is perceived as reflecting poorly upon them.

*I should note that in general my boss is great to work for. This is pretty much the only time he's ever said something dismissive like this, and I imagine he didn't realize he was being dismissive.
posted by ocherdraco to Work & Money (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
One tip: know what you're worth in the marketplace. It's vital that you know if you're negotiating from a place of strength or weakness.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:32 PM on May 9, 2010

The delay and "hold your horses" remark (and the lack of communication up front about a likely delay) more likely reflect on the company and your boss than on you.

From what little I heard, you did everything within your power correctly. Perhaps you could have taken some time at the end of the original negotiation or in a follow-up shortly thereafter to finalize the details (how much, effective when) and confirmed it via email. But I don't know if that would have gotten you the money faster. You might've just learned more about the institutional channels that his recommendation for a salary boost were going to have to travel through.
posted by salvia at 10:43 PM on May 9, 2010

Response by poster: To clarify: that promotion was a title change only, as the salary freeze was already in place.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:48 PM on May 9, 2010

I agree with salvia's comments.

Have you read Women Don't Ask? It helped me immensely in this area.
posted by different at 12:24 AM on May 10, 2010

always consider what's in it for your boss. if you're promoted, given a raise, put on a new project - how will that help your boss with their boss? if you come in with an idea how to argue this angle (without being an overt suck up), you'll have better luck.

a great piece of advice i heard recently (oh horrors, it was by sharon osbourne, i think) - and it was something like "the most important thing to you today isn't the most important to someone else" - keep an eye on what is important to them, what they are stressing or fussing over, and how you can help that while getting your goals met.
posted by nadawi at 12:30 AM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: I whole-heartedly recommend Ask for It, by the same author of Women Don't Ask. The author is a University professor who researches women and negotiation, so the tips and strategies she gives are based on research about what works. It's helped me enormously. I even bought the book for a friend for Christmas I liked it so much.
posted by unannihilated at 5:38 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: unannihilated, it looks like that book is exactly what I need. Thanks.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:48 AM on May 10, 2010

I had a similar situation at my own company. Like many orgs, my direct boss has a say in my compensation, but doesn't have final authority. In many places, the boss has to work for an increased budget with which to pay you from.

Here's how it worked for me:

Me: Hey boss, we haven't seen raises in a while, how are things looking?
Boss: I'm working on it.
Me: Cool, thank you. Please let your bosses know that it is important to me.
Boss: Will do.

Now, in my situation, this happened to be the summer of 2008, right as the economy was poised to crash. So I didn't get the raise. But I did get an apologetic call from the boss. And my need for the raise was diminished because the price of everything got a lot lower.

(Aside- I should have been able to read the tea leaves. I was on a road trip, and throughout the course of the weekend, I watched gas prices drop a dollar. The market crashed shortly thereafter. Hindsight...)

Back to relevance- you have to do a couple of things when these situations come up:

1- State your case dispassionately. While more money and/or title promotions can be highly emotional things for you, they aren't necessarily for your boss. Paying you more probably means the bosses job gets a little harder in that they have to manage their budget better. Also, how you present your case goes a long way in showing management your "work maturity". They may see your work product and that it's good, but they may not be seeing you as a partner in the organization. By asking for raises and such in a professional manner, you show them that you are a no-nonsense kind of person- another positive facet of you and your value to the company. Handling it well impresses them and tells them that you can handle different things well.

2- Use market value and the various things cautiously. It is a sort of appeal to authority- it shifts the conversation from being about you and your worth to the organization, to being about your references and their accuracy. It can also be seen as passive aggressive- depending too heavily on external references like this shifts the burden of showing your value to the organization off of you and onto some external reference, and onto them to prove to you why you *aren't* worth what the website says you are. When you are asking for something, putting the other side on the defensive rarely works. It's the same as, but to a far lesser degree, walking into the office with your cousin Vinnie and saying "Hey boss, Vinnie here says you should be paying me more. Are you going to tell him no?"

2b- Using market value (or even getting another job offer) can backfire too. "You think you're worth $60,000? Go for it. Don't let the door hit you in the ass."

3- Always present your case so that giving you what you want will be a win for both of you. "Hey boss, I need more money. How can I be of greater value to the organization?" Give them a way, or at least an opportunity, to see how paying you $5000 more a year may well net them $10,000 in revenue or cost savings.

As for the hold your horses thing, it's hard to tell. If I was the boss, the only thing that would prompt me to say something like that was if I thought my employee didn't trust that I was working on it. If I heard that from my boss, I'd be pissed too. But use it as a learning experience. Something caused some friction in the relationship, try to determine what it was.
posted by gjc at 9:10 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 3rding Women Don't Ask (theoretical) and Ask For It (practical). I found them paradigm-shifting.

Some of the papers at Negotiating Women might be helpful. ("Asking Pays Off: Negotiate What You Need To Succeed" strikes me as meatier than some of the others I randomly clicked.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:50 PM on May 10, 2010

"Women at the Bargaining Table: Pitfalls and Prospects,"
Catherine H Tinsley; Sandra I Cheldelin; Andrea Kupfer Schneider; Emily T Ama...
Negotiation Journal; Apr 2009; 25, 2; ABI/INFORM Global
pg. 233

might help. Ask For It has a chapter on the importance of using expectations of stereotypical "feminine" behavior to avoid having others perceive your go-getter assertiveness as unlikeable bitchiness ("Be relentlessly pleasant," and find a way to frame what you're asking for as on behalf of others, eg, your team. Not yourself). This paper covers that, and offers a few more dimensions too based on research that came out the same year Ask For It was published. Eg:

"Appeal to common goals" (makes your assertiveness appear less self-interested)

Emphasize your "role/position in the organization": "Statements to the effect of 'I wouldn't be a very good lawyer / manager / owner if I didn't ask for more resources' help to focus the other party on the position rather than on the gender of the negotiator."

Tactful acknowledgment that, hey, my assertive behavior may strike you as irregular and discombobulating, but my well-grounded reason for doing it at this moment is that it benefits our company in such-and-such ways: "I don't mean to be too demanding, and I wouldn't normally care about this, but in this context, I think we need to argue for a refund because of the precedent it might set for the company if we do not."

(Raising an eyebrow over here at the multiple wishy-washinesses in that last script, but the authors might say it's warranted, for walking that fine line between perceived competence and perceived likeability.)

Really, if you have access to research library or know somebody who does, the whole article is worth reading.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:29 PM on May 11, 2010

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