Even when we feel we deserve a promotion, a pay rise, or a better starting package, not everyone finds it easy to ask, and this can be especially true of women. Here are some ideas and inspiration to help boost your assertiveness in conversations about money…
According to research by Mintel, women continue to be less confident about asking for a pay rise than men – half as much, in fact, with 42 per cent of men saying they feel confident about asking for a rise, compared with just 22 per cent of women.
“Women have traditionally not been good at asking for pay rises,” says Ricky Mui, managing director of Robert Walters Greater China, who links it with a more general confidence issue.
”It’s often said that when a woman sees a job description, if she can master nine out of the ten requirements, she’ll focus on the one she’s not sure about, and maybe not apply as a result,” says Ricky. “Whereas a man might see the same ad, and feel confident about applying even if he can only tick four out of the ten boxes!”
Singapore-based Joanne Chua, Robert Walters’ regional client development director for Southeast Asia and Greater China, agrees. “Confidence at work and around asking for more money is an issue,” she says. “We seem to think we’re never good enough.”
So what can you do to increase your confidence in asking for and talking about money? And what steps can you take to improve your chances of a positive outcome?
Ask yourself: “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Nervousness about talking money can have many causes – a lack of self-esteem, reluctance to break cultural norms, fear of being seen as mercenary or fear of rejection. But it’s worth remembering that making sure you’re paid fairly is a basic right, and it makes good business sense too. Done right, demonstrating your negotiation skills will show commercial savvy that will impress your boss.
“No one should think less of you for asking,” says Ricky. “Any employer worth their salt will respect your confidence and ambition. And if they don’t, well what does that say about them?”
”Say to yourself: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’” adds Joanne. “The worst thing is they can say no. But who would you rather be – someone who tried, or someone who didn’t dare ask?”
Prepare, prepare, prepare…
“You have to go into that meeting the most prepared you can be,” says Ricky. “Start by looking back over the past year and thinking about where you have over-achieved. Look at your job description and think about when you have performed over and above that. Ask: what projects have you been involved in that have been real successes? List the impact you’ve had – on your team, the business and the bottom line.”
This exercise is a good way of reminding yourself why you are worth a rise, but it has other benefits too. “Quite often your manager may simply not be aware of – or may not recall – all the things that you’ve achieved, and how you’ve contributed,” says Ricky. “So think back to positive feedback from appraisals, testimonials from co-workers, and positive feedback from clients or other parts of the business.”
Pick your battles
You need to go to the meeting with a good idea of what you’re worth – and a good awareness of what you potentially deserve and are currently missing out on. ”Don’t negotiate for the sake of it – just to prove you can,” cautions Joanne. “Size up the opportunity, and benchmark against your peers.”
Robert Walters’ own regional Salary Surveys can be very useful here. In addition, most industries are supported by publications and bodies which provide regular salary reports. Another way to benchmark your pay is to look at comparable job ads on recruiter sites. Websites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn also provide salary information which can help you get a clear indication of the range for your role and level of experience.
It’s a good idea to speak to a recruiter you trust too. Recruiters deal with salary negotiations on a day-to-day basis and can give you guidance on what to ask for.
While it’s important to benchmark your pay accurately, Ricky warns against targeting a specific co-worker’s pay. “It’s dangerous to get into direct comparisons with colleagues,” he says. “You don’t want to go storming in with, ‘Why does Bob get $5000 more than me?!!’ You may not know the whole context, and that sort of approach is likely to put an employer’s back up. Plus, of course, the whole issue is implicit in the conversation anyway.”
Practise with someone you trust
“Women especially have to learn to use the right language in negotiations and to be confident and direct,” says Ricky. “So practise till you can do it.” Ricky emphasises the need for women to be more assertive in a polite, balanced way, and not apologetic for, or excessively grateful for, receiving something which is effectively their right anyway.
Role-playing what you want to say, and how, is a great way to grow your confidence for the meeting ahead, he adds. “Discuss what you’ll say with a partner, or friend(s) you trust. Practise at home being non-confrontational but also calm and confident – weed out all those expressions like ‘I’m terribly sorry’ and ‘I’m so grateful’.”
Joanne Chua advises finding someone you trust that you can have a heart-to-heart with to discuss your fears and concerns. “Find a mentor who can give you support and guidance,” she says. “Talk to someone who’s been down the same path.”
Don’t make it personal
Another way to take the heat out of the conversation is to imagine you’re acting on behalf of a third party, says Joanne. “Don’t make it personal,” she says. “Ask yourself: How much should someone doing that job, sitting in that chair, be on? Given the role and the budget, how much should they be paid?”
Time it right
Timing is vital when it comes to broaching the subject of salary. “Make sure you call a timely meeting,” advises Ricky. “If the annual pay review is in January, and you call the meeting for February, you’re likely to have missed the boat. In such a case November would be better.”
Keep it focused
Similarly, don’t try to combine your pay issue with another discussion. “Call a specific meeting about your pay – don’t tack it on to a meeting about anything else,” says Ricky. “It’s very important that things keep to the point and don’t digress.”
Learn the dance of negotiation
You don’t have to be a master negotiator to close the deal, but knowing the basics can help you a great deal:
- Listen hard: Active listening shows respect and builds trust. Repeat back key points your manager makes: mirroring shows that you appreciate their perspective and take them seriously.
- Acknowledge objections: An objection such as “we just don’t have the budget” is often used as a way to try and bring the negotiation to an end. But you can keep the conversation going by acknowledging the objection, repeating it back to your manager, and asking additional questions until a compromise or an alternative solution might emerge. These additional questions might include: “Do you know when budget might be made available for this?” or “What are your plans for growing and developing the team?”
- Pace yourself: Don’t feel pressured to jump at the first figure that’s put in front of you. Your manager probably has a final figure in mind, and – like yours – it’s unlikely to be the first thing that’s offered.
- Own the silence: “Don’t feel the need to fill the silence with chatter and white noise – ask your question and wait for the answer. Just let the silence fill the room,” advises Ricky. “It took me years to learn this one, and women often find it harder than men, but it’s a classic sales technique that’s often very powerful.”
- Expand the pie: A negotiation isn’t about bulldozing a perceived opponent into giving you everything you want. It’s about giving to get – bargaining for what you both want. So if the final figure on the table isn’t quite aligned with what you had in mind, says Ricky, you may be able to negotiate something else that works for you. “Is there something else you can get instead?” he says. “For example, extra annual leave, study days, training courses, flexible hours, mentoring, an extra percentage on your pension, CPD courses?”
- Think it over: Even if you’re happy with the proposal, always give yourself a night’s sleep to think things over. It’s important not to let the emotion of the moment sway you; it’s always wise to reflect on the offer and ideally discuss it with someone you trust.
Consider your options
If you don’t get exactly what you want from the conversation, stay calm and give yourself time to decide on your response.
”Don’t issue an ultimatum if you don’t get what you want,” says Ricky. “Just buy yourself some time instead – say, ‘I’d like to think about that and come back to you’. Don’t get emotional or petty. Stay calm and professional, and take some time to reflect.”
In some cases, if you don’t get what you want it may be that the manager simply doesn’t have it in their power to do anything at the current time. “In such a case, say that you’d like to put in a date for a review,” says Ricky. “Ask: when do you think we might be able to move on this? Note the date and follow up accordingly.”
Always end positively. Regardless of the outcome, make sure you finish the meeting on a constructive note and show your appreciation for the time you’ve been given.
And if on reflection you’re still not happy with the outcome of your negotiation, of course, it may be time to think about looking for another job where you feel the pay is closer to what you deserve.
If you're thinking about moving on read our article on how to find a right job.