Salary: 3 Ways to Sabotage Your Raise

Mika BrzezinskiThere are better and worse ways to open the conversation about your raise. Mika Brzezinski, co-host of “Morning Joe” and author of Knowing Your Value, bravely recalls her own less-than-ideal approach:

“I knew I deserved a raise. I knew I needed a raise. But I still felt anxious about asking to be compensated for what I was bringing to the show. Lots of people considered me a hit, but how did I really know that management agreed? My current salary implied that they still thought of me as a freelancer.

“I brought all these feelings with me when I asked for a raise. I actually thought that if I explained to NBC’s front office about the clothes and the travel, and how the math didn’t make sense, they would respond to my concerns. Looking back (and knowing what I’ve learned while writing this book), I may as well have said, ‘Hi. Please don’t give me a raise, okay?’

“I went to see Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, who to this day is a friend, but we didn’t know each other that well then. I sat down in his office and said, ‘I’m sorry if this is bad timing. I don’t want to be a problem. I’m absolutely certain that this is a great show. I’m buying clothes for the shift, I’m buying makeup, I’m trying to keep my hair the way it should look.’ I went on to say, ‘I really don’t want to be a diva or high maintenance or anything. But the way the numbers add up at the end of the month, I need to make more. I really hope you can understand that.’

“I was nervous and struggling to articulate both facts and emotions. I was appealing to what I thought would be his . . . what, generous side? It certainly wasn’t Phil’s job to care about wardrobe details, and I had signed an agreement. The conversation was a disaster. Needless to say I left Phil’s office without a raise, but it would be unfair to focus the blame on him. At that time I still didn’t realize why my plea failed. I didn’t know what was wrong with my approach, and given my age and professional experience, that’s simply not right.”

I love this book, Knowing Your Value. Brzezinski is brave–even relentless–in examining the mistakes she made trying to get a raise. And she gets some of the most successful women in business (like Sheryl Sandberg) and the public sector (like Valerie Barrett) to help identify the common pitfalls and encourage better strategies for success.

For example, consider these three types of lead-ins, guaranteed to sabotage your raise. By soft-pedalling the situation, we undercut our seriousness of purpose:

  1. The apology. “I know you’re busy, I know you don’t have time . . . “
  2. The victim card. “My mother has fallen ill and I need to support her . . . “
  3. The over-explanation. (Nuf said.)

Clever women have invented numerous variations on these themes:

  • “I don’t know if you have the time”
  • “I don’t know if you’ll consider”
  • “I don’t know if this is possible”
  • “I hate to do this”
  • “I don’t know if there’s room for this in the budget”
  • “I’m sorry if the timing is bad”

Wow! What better way to give your boss permission NOT to pay you what you’re worth? Think about it: if you’re not confident enough to make an unequivocal case for a salary increase, why should your boss have any more confidence in your worth?

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