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  • While furloughs and layoffs continue to be a common occurrence, there are still individuals who’ve been working toward career advancement or have an annual review approaching that may want to advocate for a promotion or raise.
  • Employees may feel anxious about asking for more money or responsibility during challenging times, so expert negotiator Alexandra Carter shared these tips for getting what you want.
  • First, frame your pitch in a way that highlights the benefit to your employer; then, use open-ended questions to your advantage and don’t forget to be on the lookout for body language cues. 
  • You don’t have to take “no” for a final answer: You can always ask for equity or the chance to be considered for a raise next year, or negotiate for more vacation time.
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With the economy in a downward trend and companies of all kinds experiencing layoffs, individuals who are still employed may, unsurprisingly, feel less comfortable asking for a raise or promotion, even if it’s something they’ve been working toward since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

For strategies on advocating for career advancement and compensation increases even when times are hard, Business Insider turned to advice from Alexandra Carter, author of the upcoming book “Ask for More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything,” a professor and director of the Mediation Clinic at Columbia Law School, and a world-renowned negotiation trainer for the United Nations.

Know when it’s the right time to ask

Carter explained that employees who “find respectful, value-creating ways” to ask for more for themselves, even in a down market, often get the rewards that they want. And, in some instances, companies may actually be primed to invest precisely in the kinds of employees who are leading them through this moment of crisis from a position of strength, she added.

The best time to ask for something is when you have leverage, such as when “you deliver on a major project, you save a deal from disaster, [or] you help the company make its quarterly revenue number,” said Carter.

If a company has instituted a blanket salary freeze, pay cuts, layoffs, or furloughs, it may not be the moment to ask for a promotion or raise in the short term. Instead, now is the time to show support and appreciation for management and focus on long-term relationship building, said Carter. The goal should be to position yourself as someone management wants to help and the first one to receive a pay or title bump when things turn around.

Do the research to define your ask

The very first thing to do is define the problem you want to solve for yourself. For instance, is the goal to get more money, or move ahead on the path toward the C-suite? 

“If the latter, asking for more money alone may not demonstrate your leadership potential,” she noted. When you draft a list of your asks, remember to include both the tangibles that matter to you — the specifics of the title and salary increase — and also the intangible benefits you hope to receive, such as advancement, stability, and recognition.  

Next, it’s time to frame your pitch. Once you have a list of your wants and needs, it’s time to bring together the wants and needs of the other parties in this equation: your manager, leadership, and the company. To do that, Cater said you should be able to answer the question: “How can I help them achieve their needs while achieving mine, too?” 

After all, the goal is to approach the conversation of a raise or promotion with your manager in a way that underscores how the company also benefits. For example, you can share how promoting you to a more advanced position enables you to leverage your experience to help the company to an even greater degree. Another take: Offering you a raise and additional responsibilities could save the company the cost of multiple headcount positions if you can absorb the work of junior roles.

To truly make the case and advocate for yourself, take stock of everything you’ve accomplished for your organization and team over the last year, recommended Carter. 

“Make sure you include wins you had within the organization (for example, improving systems, training, or retention) as well as client-facing victories,” she said. These can also include times you’ve gone above and beyond, such as providing coverage for a sick colleague or taking on additional roles and duties in the face of staff cuts.

To improve your chances of success, Cater suggested gaining insights from your network and asking colleagues about their past negotiations. Find out what they asked for and how they managed to get what they wanted.

Lay the groundwork for a successful meeting

There are two steps you can take to set the meeting up in your favor. 

First, schedule the conversation at a time that’s convenient for your manager, shared Carter. 

“If you attempt to have a conversation when he/she is preoccupied, they may be more likely to decline your request,” she said. 

Then, ahead of the meeting, make sure you reflect on all the possible questions that might be thrown your way during the conversation. For instance, your manager may ask:

  • How did you arrive at salary $X?
  • How can I sell offering you salary $X to the CEO?
  • What value can you bring to the company in this new position?

Be sure to have answers written out to address each one, such as:

  • A list of your accomplishments
  • Research on the going market rate for a given position
  • Ideas for the role and a convincing case for how your past achievements show you can deliver in this new capacity

If you’re anxious about negotiating, keep these notes accessible during the meeting to help calm your nerves.

Ask open-ended questions and avoid getting defensive

Once the conversation gets going, there are two ways to modify your speech to your advantage. First, “ask open-ended questions,” recommended Carter. “People who ask open-questions get more than those who don’t.” 

This means avoiding questions like, “Can you give me a raise?” 

“Instead, ask questions that start with, ‘what’ or ‘how,’ like: ‘What can we do to get me closer to the right compensation level for this role?’ or ‘How have you successfully mentored other people into management [roles]?'” she explained. As the conversation progresses, keep your manager engaged with additional open-ended questions, including: “How can I help the company most this year?” and “What do you need from me to know that what I’m asking for can work out?”

The second communication strategy Carter shared is to use what she calls an “I/we ask.” That means framing the conversation as follows: “Here’s what I am requesting, and here’s how we both benefit from it.”

It’s important that during the entire discussion you’re paying attention to your manager’s cues. “You can learn a lot from someone’s tone,” shared Carter, as well as their body language. Listen and look for any sign of hesitation, doubt, or annoyance. Even silence is a form of communication.

When things seem to be taking a negative turn, Carter suggested “Summarizing and acknowledging.” That is, repeating back what your manager has said and acknowledging any issues they might have raised, two skills expert negotiators often rely on to minimize defensiveness and increase the chances of an arrangement both sides end up accepting, Carter explained. 

“For example, ‘I hear that you’re concerned about the optics of a promotion when the company is also laying people off. I know you’re really invested in everyone’s morale, and that’s part of what makes you so effective as our leader,'” she offered.

Carter shared that she always ends these types of conversations with a recap of everything that’s been discussed, what was agreed upon, and what the next steps are. Especially during a time of crisis, she emphasized remembering to thank people for their time and include well wishes about their health. 

Come prepared with other options

Even if your ask for a raise or promotion isn’t approved, your options may be greater than you think, said Carter. That’s why it’s best to come prepared with back-up asks.

You can always ask about the possibility of a raise next year, equity, paid training opportunities to help you advance to the next level of management, or more vacation time, suggested Carter. She added that the goal is to “give your manager more than one way to say yes.” 


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