If you’re afraid to ask for a raise, you’re in good company. Most people are afraid at least to some extent. What if you screw up your courage just to hear “no!” And the truth is, that’s always possible. But each time we let fear stop us, it takes on more power. Until it runs our lives.
So what can we do to increase our chances of getting that “yes!”? I’m glad you asked. I’ll give you some tips in a little while. But first, it’s worth digging in a bit and understanding more about the fear. It’s not just the “no” but what it really means. And knowing why you react the way you do can go a long way toward breaking out of the fear pattern!
So much of career success is about getting past our fears!
Why you’re afraid to ask for a raise
It’s no secret why so many of us are afraid to ask for a raise. Quite simply, no one likes to be rejected. Especially by our boss, someone who holds the future of our work life in their hands.
Adding to the fear, when we were young our parents were in control of the “yes” or “no”. So some of those memories may also be triggered when we need to ask something from the person in power. Even more terrifying, when it’s something we really, really want.
Feelings triggered when you ask for a raise
All kinds of feelings arise when you ask your boss for a raise. You’ll recognize some of the same feelings you felt as a child. Just replace coworkers with siblings or other children who were so much better than you — or so it sometimes felt.
- Feeling small
- Being powerless
- Feeling like you’re not really wanted
- Inferiority (to coworkers)
- Fear of reminding boss you’re not doing a good enough job
- Shame (“how dare you even ask!”)
- Being seen as a troublemaker or ungrateful
- Being made fun of or gossiped about to your coworkers
- Getting fired (thrown out) for showing dissatisfaction
- Just plain facing rejection
Even if you’re sure you deserve the extra money, these deep feelings can come up. And you’ll find yourself hesitating to even bring up the issue. Or stumbling over words when the time comes.
And often, women are even more insecure when it comes to asking for what we’re worth. But many men also suffer from these same insecurities, and find themselves afraid to ask for a raise.
The thing about facing our fears
When we take risks in life, it doesn’t mean we’ll succeed every time. Many successful people talk about all the times their big plans didn’t work out. But they kept trying. Or they found other ways to get there.
Each time we push past our fear, we remove internal barriers we didn’t even know existed. That’s mighty powerful stuff — for your career and your life.
If you never take a chance,
you’ll never know how far you could have gone.
Or what new doors might have opened as a result —
even if you fail!
A young man who was not afraid
When I worked in academia, we had an eager young project manager, Steve, who was NOT afraid to ask for a raise. In fact, he felt he deserved it just because he had done his job well. Which he had.
The thing is that you’re supposed to do your job well — and that’s what you’re getting paid for. But this idea seemed to elude him. Steve saw each and every thing he did as evidence he deserved MORE, especially if it was even slightly above and beyond specific job requirements.
We used to joke about it. “Oh … here comes Steve. He changed the water bottle. Must be time for him to ask for a raise again.” Clearly, he was focused on his own needs, and not how he fit into the larger organizational picture.
Despite his excellent understanding of the technical aspects, there were skills he had not yet acquired. People skills. And of course, there are co-workers who also want raises, and limited funds. But, still he was never afraid to ask for a raise, and that didn’t keep us from wanting to find a way to make it work.
So did we fire the project manager for asking?
No. He was good at his job. And he was a good addition to the overall team. But he just wasn’t ready for a raise at that time. Eventually he got there.
Still he did accomplish some useful things just by asking, even though the answer was “no” more than once:
- He put us on alert that he wants to move up both financially and in title.
- And we knew that if we wanted to keep him, we needed to find ways to bring him up to speed on the skills he was lacking. A valuable employee is worth that time & effort investment.
- We also knew he might be looking elsewhere, but that was ok. All we could do is work with him in a way that matched the departmental goals, and not just his. If he was so miserable he didn’t want to be there, he wouldn’t be a positive addition to the team anyway.
- His eagerness also motivated us to make sure we kept communication open, helping him see where improvement was needed. But also giving him a chance to take on projects where he could stretch.
Still, he was pushing it by asking so often. Luckily for him, we really wanted to find a way to keep him, while helping him grow his skills. Being good at your job helps. But some bosses would have lost patience. So while it’s ok to ask for a raise, maybe not every few weeks, ok?
So what can you do to get past the fear?
Well … first keep reminding yourself that most people are afraid to ask for a raise.
It’s one of those vulnerable moments in life where you pretty much give up control and let someone else decide your fate. Like asking someone for a first date or getting up in front of an audience whose approval you really want.
So if you feel shaky, try taking some deep breaths (in and out). And just remind yourself that being nervous is completely normal. In fact, nervous energy can actually be helpful if you also come prepared armed with solid facts — and a belief in yourself.
Prepare in advance.
Make a list of all you have accomplished, especially things that go beyond your basic job requirements. Quantify where you can as you might for a job interview, such as:
- Improved sales by 50% in one year.
- Saved the company $10,000 by creating a streamlined inventory process.
- Led a task force that helped improve the company website.
- Created an online company newspaper that helped expand the customer base.
- Brought in two projects ahead of schedule.
Well, you get the idea. Not only will these help make your case to your boss, but they help you feel more secure about even asking. Look at all you did … you do deserve that raise!
Try visualizing the entire thing.
See yourself sitting comfortably in your boss’s office. And smiling. Then see yourself asking for the raise, giving your reasons calmly and confidently. Believing in yourself. And make sure you end with your boss saying “YES” and shaking your hand as you leave.
Or whatever visualization you come up with that feels good. Do this daily the week leading up to the actual day you ask for that raise. Again, remember to breathe slowly in and out while visualizing.
Also, try practicing your request in front of a mirror or to a friend.
It’s normal to feel nervous even if you have a long list of accomplishments. So the more you say the words out loud, the more you can own them. Again, similar to preparing for a job interview.
Also, do some research.
Look at online want ads and salary charts. What are other people being paid for the same job in your area? What about in your own company (if you can snoop around without getting in trouble).
Now, that doesn’t mean your particular company can go there if a lot higher, especially if they have to work within a salary structure. But it might help you feel more secure when you ask.
So how much do you ask for?
That depends so much on your industry and job title. But, for me, I like to find some kind of logic or simply a percent increase that feels solid.
“I’ve been here a year, got an excellent review, expanded our 19-29 year-old customer base by 50%, and implemented a new budget process. At the moment, my salary is only $45,000 a year. And so now I’m looking to see a bump up in my salary. About 12% bringing me to $50,400 would make me very happy … until next year.”
That last part can be said with a slight smile or just polite firmness, as you look your boss in the eyes. This shows that you are looking to continue to grow. But also, you’re saying that you are willing and intend to work hard for it.
I think a number that feels substantial enough without being insultingly greedy is a good approach. Plus, it gives them some wiggle room to come back to you. Just make sure that you ask for enough not to feel cheated. Just not so much, you shut down the negotiation right then and there.
What if you ask for a raise and your boss says no
If your boss says no, that’s not all that unusual. Nor does it mean you can’t try again later on. But see if there’s any give on the “no” now. Don’t be shy at this point If not ask why — and what you can do to get to that raise you want.
Unless your boss tells you there is no way you will ever get a raise, work with them to find opportunities to show your value and enhance your skills. And ask to take on new challenges in directions you would enjoy.
You should not be afraid to ask for a raise. Maybe it will take longer than you’d ideally like, but you can also use the mutual knowledge of working toward a raise to advance your skill set and resume accomplishments.
The good news is that even if you don’t get that raise and wind up leaving, you will have grown your skills / accomplishments and chances for an even better next job — with more money. Which is all you wanted in the first place.
NOTE: If your boss does say no to the raise, there may be other things to negotiate for. Like flex hours or more vacation days or the same pay for less hours. I once negotiated a four-day instead of five-day week for the same money. But that’s another article.
And just in case you do need to leave
More about raises …
Some more posts to help