How You Ask One Question Could Determine If You Get A Raise

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Recently, a Wells Fargo employee sent an email to the CEO of Wells Fargo (which he estimates has over 300,000 employees) asking for a $10,000 raise for himself – and all 300,000 of his colleagues, most of whom were copied on the email. While this email is unique in that it indirectly takes on the form of a group demand for a raise, it still follows the most common dialogue used when employees negotiate salary: “can I have a raise?”.

Inevitably, most people approach their boss or manager and ask, “can I have a raise?” in some combination of words and sentiments. It’s often encouraged that employees make a case and speak up if they believe they deserve a raise. Due to the ask-receive format of this request, it’s not too surprising that this question is rarely met with a clear “yes.” However, one simple tweak that you can make when asking for a raise will almost always lead to a raise and align your work with your boss’ expectations.

Why these ten words trump the usual five

Instead of asking, “can I have a raise?”, which tends to be a fairly entitled way of phrasing the question, imagine that you approached every salary negotiation with, “What do I need to do to get a raise?” instead. Now, instead of having a ask-receive relationship with your boss, you have opened up the conversation into a more constructive territory. Rather than a one-way conversation, you’ve instigated a cooperative means of communication with an opportunity for a mutually beneficial outcome.

Asking what you can do to get a raise – instead of asking them for the raise, does a few crucial things: 1) it holds yourself accountable (and your boss, in the long run), 2) it suggests a certain level of investment on your part, in both the company and your own professional development, 3) it allows for a broader conversation about your strengths and areas for improvement, and 4) it gives you insight into your timeline for salary increases and goal-setting around this timeline.

It’s important that this tweak in verbiage is still posed as a direct question. Give your manager time to answer the question; pose the discussion-starter clearly, then wait for their response before continuing the discussion on your own. Salary negotiations involve pointed, clear questions, and this tweak should not evoke too much grey area, but rather, a stronger sense of accountability, maturity and clarity.

Guaranteeing the raise

Once you’ve established a mature dialogue about goals and salary negotiation with your manager or boss, it’s critical to mark a date – ideally, with your manager – for when you will follow up to discuss your deliverables and expectations. Make it clear to your manager that you’d like to earn your raise, and once they offer a few deliverables and metrics, both parties are accountable: you will need to deliver the discussed items, and your manager will have to give you a raise. Navigating salary discussions in this way creates an unofficial contract between employer and manager; if both parties are aware of the metrics and the timeline, a raise becomes an inevitable outcome rather than a hopeful question.

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