Monday, December 21, 2009

Coaching Lessons: It's Not What You Say, But How You Say It

I can't quite describe the sensation I had when I saw that MSN Money had posted an article yesterday about how best to ask for a raise. Link here.

In the current job climate the last thing on anyone's mind is asking for a raise.

When I reread the article I discovered, hidden away at the bottom, the copyright date: April, 2008. The article felt out of place because it had been written for a different world.

That doesn't mean that we can't learn anything from it. And I am not just thinking of indulging more wishful thinking.

Anyway, the article involves an interview with Coach Jim Camp. His central point is excellent. Camp notes that what matters in asking for a raise is not what you say but how you say it. Since the same rule applies in many other life situations, it is worth exploring.

I should mention that it is not an original thought. Aristotle made the same principle the foundation of his ethics. To Aristotle your goal should be to say the right thing to the right person at the right time in the right place under the right circumstances.

As it happens, in most companies today these are not the right circumstances for asking for a raise.

Be that as it may, the article errs in organizing itself around a list of mistakes to avoid. If you are trying to help people find the best way to formulate a request, then you do not want to start out by making them aware of all the mistakes they might make.

It is an elementary rule of coaching. You do not want people to focus on the mistakes they must avoid. You want them to make a plan and to prepare for getting it right.

Happily, the article recommends that you prepare well before you even consider asking for a raise. You need to know how well your company is doing, how other people with similar responsibilities are compensated, and how much value you bring to your company.

In other words, you need to place your request within the larger context of what is best for the company. If, as Camp says, you walk into the meeting filled with ideas about what is best for you, you will not have a chance.

I would add the following point about preparation: if you want a raise, or a promotion, you would do best to begin by working beyond your job description. You need to earn your raise before you ask for it.

Hard work, to the benefit of the company, will facilitate your request and build up your confidence.

You also need to know how to present your case with confidence and how to make it that your presentation does not sound like a demand.

Jim Camp also offers some less-than-helpful advice. He seems to believe that requesting a raise should involve an extended conversation between you and your boss.

Surely, there are some bosses who like to involve themselves in long chats with their staffs, but most busy bosses are happier if you respect the value of their time by getting right to the point.

Getting it right means knowing the purpose of the meeting and sticking to the agenda.

I also wonder why Camp wants you to open the discussion by telling your boss that it is OK if he refuses to give you the raise. Why would you want to begin by putting negative thoughts in your boss's mind?

Aren't you confident about your value to the company? Aren't you persuaded that you deserve an increase in your salary? If so, why would you tell your boss that the raise is not all that important?

Camp is correct to say that you should not beg, complain, or issue any threats or ultimata. He is also correct to advise you to keep your emotions out of the discussion.

I would offer one caveat here. One of the best ways of scoring a raise or a promotion is to have another job offer in hand. If the other job pays better and offers more responsibility, you are surely in a stronger position to ask for a raise.

Should this count as an ultimatum? I think not. It is simply a market-based judgment about your value. It would be foolish not to share it with your current boss.

This does not mean that you should invent a job offer to pressure your boss. Don't bluff! A canny will see through it and will call your bluff. You do not want to find yourself unemployed because you were too clever for your own good.

Finally, Camp recommends that you should not brag or try to impress your boss with your high opinion of yourself. As I interpret it, this means that you should allow your work to speak for itself. If you can provide charts and graphs that demonstrate your value to the company, those visual aids will say everything that needs to be said.

For the moment you are probably not looking for a raise or even a promotion. And yet, if you think in terms of doing a great job, advancing your company's interest, and getting ahead in your career... you are far more likely to keep your job.

If, on the other hand, you think merely about how you can best hang on, you will make yourself more vulnerable that you need to be.

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