The complete guide to negotiating a raise

Mimic the boss’ behavior. It pays.
Mimic the boss’ behavior. It pays.
Image: AP Photo/Franka Bruns
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Paychecks still haven’t recovered from the financial crisis and raises in the US have stagnated. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push to increase your worth.

You want to know the going pay rate for your job, but it’s also important to link your success with that of your employer. Based on the science and psychology of negotiating for a heftier paycheck, here’s the complete guide to getting a raise:

Most raises are given to prevent good employees from leaving

You don’t usually get a raise because “you deserve it” or just because you worked hard. A 2010 study showed that raises are given to retain top performers. So if you’re not an A-team player at your office and upper management doesn’t feel you’re flight risk, don’t count on a significant bump in pay.

“They need to like you.”

The first thing Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra tells his MBA students about salary negotiation is “They need to like you.” Other leading experts agree. Persuasion expert Robert Cialdini tells me that liking someone is one of the six fundamental pillars of influencing people. Want to be more likable? Research shows you should encourage others to talk about themselves and ask for their advice.

Make your accomplishments visible

Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer told me that the key to getting ahead is getting along with your boss, working on the projects she’s interested in, and letting her know about your accomplishments. What’s the best way to do this without being overbearing? Once a week, send an email summing up all the forward progress you’re making.

Negotiate over coffee or a meal

A study from the European Journal of Social Psychology shows that coffee is an effective persuasion tool: “These results provide evidence that moderate amounts of caffeine increase systematic processing of the arguments in the message resulting in greater agreement.” Food has positive effects as well. Your boss is more likely to comply with a request that’s made while eating.

Say what she said

What’s the first thing you should say in a negotiation? Something similar to what your boss said. Study after study shows similarity has powerful persuasion abilities. From language to interests to body language, it pays to mimic. Just by matching the body language of customers, sales reps closed 20% more deals.

Anchor high

From the start, mention big numbers—bigger than you really want or need. The salary that’s discussed early on will affect the figure you finally arrive at, so start high. Research from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology shows that even outrageously high numbers still resulted in better salaries than the control group. Pro tip: Avoid round numbers. An exact figure gives the impression you did your homework and that the request is more firm.

Learn from hostage negotiators

In business negotiations, it’s easy to forget that humans are fundamentally emotional creatures. A former lead international hostage negotiator for the FBI, Chris Voss, says it’s foolish to be too clinical and ignore the what the other side has at stake. How do you move them emotionally? Act like a hostage negotiator: Listen to your manager and repeat back a synopsis of what she said to show that you understand each other.

Why a raise is good for your boss, too

No discussion of salary negotiation is complete without playing hardball. Negotiation expert Jim Camp says that while operating in a kind, supportive manner, make sure to remind the other side how difficult their life will be if this negotiation doesn’t work out. Diplomatically tell your employer how a stalemate would be painstaking for everyone: You’ll need to adapt to a new workplace and your boss has to go through the hassle of recruiting, interviewing and training a new employee. That’s no fun for anyone. Better to just settle this with a raise.

Make them write it down

Your employer agreed and said you’re getting the raise. Great. Now how do you make sure they follow through? Have them write it down. Cialdini shows that actively writing a commitment down versus a verbal agreement nearly triples compliance.

And if you’re open to taking a highly unconventional approach to negotiating your salary, consider Brooke Allen’s popular guide to getting paid more by asking for nothing at all. He also has salary negotiation advice for women specifically as well.

Eric Barker is the author of the blog Barking up the Wrong Tree. You can follow him on Twitter at @bakadesuyo