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Salary Negotiations, Part 2 - How To Prepare for a Negotiation and Manage Social Cost

Laying the groundwork for salary negotiation

Now we’re getting to it - laying the groundwork to ask for more. Asking for a pay rise can be incredibly daunting. I will never forget asking for my first pay rise many years ago. I had gone above and beyond and saved my employer a sum of money, many times my salary. I prepared a business case and had many facts and figures to present once I psyched myself up. I spent more time mentally preparing myself than I did creating my case. When ready, I made an appointment to see my manager and explained I’d like to discuss my salary and a pay rise. I simply told him what I was paid and what I wanted. It turned out all I had to do was ask. I didn’t have to justify the reason, he never asked any questions, and I didn’t have to present my case. In hindsight, I probably should have asked for more!

I was taken aback at how simple it was, but the reality is, it was only easy because I had laid the groundwork and felt prepared. If I had not done this, I might not have had the confidence to ask.

Negotiating your salary is often the most critical business transaction for an employee. It links to many’s self-worth, emotion, and anxiety, and these play to the imposter syndrome many people feel. A lot of the information in this article is suitable for anyone looking to get a pay rise. Still, it transpires that women are more likely to be successful if they approach the situation slightly differently and consider the social cost. Unconscious bias and social cost create more risk for women when negotiating a pay rise, and this is at a time when there is a gender pay gap in the UK of 9.8%, according to the UK govenment. Women in particular, should be armed with this information.

Many employers are closely monitoring costs just now and are concerned about contributing to salary inflation. However, our recent research in March 2022 showed that 54% had never asked for a pay rise and 74% of employees believed they would not get a pay rise in line with inflation. This means it’s essential to be prepared and approach any pay negotiation as effectively as possible to enhance your chances of success.

Consider Timing

While there is never the perfect time to ask for a pay rise or promotion, there are times when you are more likely to be successful. When the business you work for is not doing well, the best thing for your career could be to roll up your sleeves and focus on the work to turn things around. If the business is doing well, don’t be complacent and keep deferring asking, and consider that it may be in the business’s best interests to promote you or pay you the market rate if that is what it takes to retain you. Remember, you may also need to be patient and have several conversations before securing a pay increase.

Some of the best times to ask

✓ After a major sale or deal closes

✓ After completing a project

✓ After investment

✓ Period of business growth

✓ The lead up to a colleague’s retirement

✓ After your work has received recognition

✓ Approaching the end of the fiscal year

✓ If the company is actively hiring

I would also note to be careful about making an ultimatum or using another job offer as leverage. You do not want to damage your relationship with your manager or become perceived as disloyal. Only use a job offer for negotiation purposes if you are happy to leave.

Prove and Promote Your Skills

Demonstrate that you can learn and develop your role. Ask what you need to do to improve and get promoted, then pursue feedback. Not everyone gives clear feedback, so if you’re unsure of what something means, it’s okay to ask for specifics and what this looks like in action. When colleagues are on paternity, maternity, sick or annual leave, take on additional responsibilities. Spot opportunities to demonstrate you have the skills to take the next step.

Manage your profile carefully during this period. Do not assume this will be noticed; bring these things up when you’re in discussion with your manager, e.g. “You said I needed management experience; I’ve been looking after the team on this project. What else can I do?”.

What is Social Cost?

Another factor (which you may or may not be familiar with) to consider when asking for a pay rise or promotion is social cost. Hannah Riley Bowles, Senior Lecturer at Harvard and expert on the subject, has researched this social phenomenon extensively. Her work outlines some of the pitfalls and potential social costs that can be present when making such decisions. Bowles dives into various aspects of this experience, noting that women can describe feeling uncomfortable in negotiation scenarios, that they can come across as pushy as opposed to the male pro-active - and as it turns out, she believes this can be for a reason.

Bowles hatches the theory that women advocating for themselves and claiming more for themselves breaks a particular feminine ideal (whether it’s a conscious or unconscious thought). This ideal is both of women’s own perception of the feminine idea; and their perception of what men think of them. Bowles found that whether it was a conscious thought or not, being aware of how men think women should approach specific scenarios impacted how a woman approaches a negotiation.

Moreover, when studied, Hannah Rileys’ Research uncovered that men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not. Exceeding this, it also made no difference to the men whether or not another man had chosen to negotiate (or not) - an interesting double standard if you ask me.

Ultimately, Bowles’ research in the area highlights that the social cost is much likely more significant to women in the workforce than to men. While this can be a factor, I believe that there are specific tips and learnings to be taken with this view to negotiating successfully - some of which from Bowles herself. So, how do you avoid social cost?

Calm, Considered, and Conversational

When looking at social cost, more importantly, how to avoid it - it’s been said to think of The 3 C’s - be Calm, Considered and Conversational. Personally, these are handy to remember in many scenarios but imperative for negotiating. Throughout my career, I’ve found that negotiations that feel like conversations tend to work in both parties’ favour, as a conversation more often than not allows all involved in being heard and voice their opinion. When discussing being calm and considered, I’d add a side note - never accept an on the spot offer (even if you have been calm and considered throughout). Be grateful and ask for this in writing if it’s your current employer. The person giving you this pay rise most likely thinks they’re having a positive conversation with you and may be surprised if you’re dissatisfied.


Returning to Bowles, another factor that frequently appears in her research is that although women can supposedly break the feminine ideals when negotiating, this is less apparent when women negotiate for others - including when they are negotiating for the organisation. Therefore, it can be helpful to negotiate communally using the I-We strategy. Sheryl Sandberg coined this approach in her book Lean In. The I-We approach encompasses going into a negotiation with a very clear sense of what you want and why (which you’ll have from following this guide), but, in the conversation, take on the other people’s perspective in the room. Show them why this negotiation is valuable for them. Both Bowles and Sanbergs’ research and experience revealed that women who expressed concern for the organisation and took on the employer’s viewpoint were far more successful than those who didn’t.

Be Authentic

A final tip that I’d pull from the wealth of research undertaken by Bowles’ on the subject is to stay authentic - stay true to yourself. Going back to the point that there are already various contradictions between the male view of women negotiating, Bowles also found that women can become more forceful and attempt to act stronger than their usual demeanour. If this is your usual demeanour - no problem, but if it isn’t, more often than not, Bowles found that this backfired, mainly because people sounded different to who they are - raising a red flag. Staying true to yourself and negotiating in a way that is true to your natural style, along with laying the groundwork, will help to ensure that your negotiation is as successful as possible.

So we’ve covered some of the nuances of asking for a payrise internally, next week in part 3, we will focus on negotiating a job offer with a new employer.

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