The (Actual) Worst Case Scenarios When Asking for a Raise
You have a great reputation, work ethic, and track record. Your company value is strong. Your expertise helps bring in sizeable revenue, and you’re the quick-turnaround project master. You’ve also done your research on your market value. Still, you hesitate on meeting with your manager to confidently assert your (solid) case for a pay bump. Perhaps the fear even keeps you awake at night.
Here’s some encouragement: Managers will typically at least consider granting a pay boost to employees with the guts to ask and the facts to back it up. Just be ready to respond appropriately to a potential “sorry,” including these worst case (but totally survivable) scenarios.
1. Your boss says no (for now).Survival Tactic:
Be a fact finder.
Of course you’re disappointed, but file this response as a “hopeful no.” Ask if there any performance issues you can address, or what other factors may be at play. Your boss may open up about a budgetary situation or reveal a company practice around the timing of increases that you can use to your advantage when you try again.
2. Your boss says no, and laughs.Survival Tactic:
Tame the anger.
Yes, it’s possible your boss is an insensitive fill-in-the-blank. It’s also possible the laugh was a nervous, knee-jerk reaction based on information you don’t know (several of your colleagues may be getting laid off soon, perhaps?). Aim for professional poise, and remain calm.
3. Your boss says no, and appears upset at you.Survival Tactic:
Smooth the mood.
Again, there may be an unknown here. Or perhaps you’ve made a tactical error in the conversation’s timing. Experts advise against Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, and stressful deadline periods. Regardless, don’t escalate the situation with an ugly tone.
4. Your boss says no, adding that you’re overestimating yourself.Survival Tactic:
Switch to growth mode.
This reply is another opportunity (post-deep breath) to ask what changes in your work approach or additional duties may warrant an increase. Look for nonverbal cues, such as avoiding eye contact, which may indicate an “It’s just not going to happen” scenario.
Turned Down, But Moving Forward
Regardless of which “no” you may hear, know this: You’re in control of how you handle the aftermath of rejection. In the moment, don’t get so upset that it damages your relationship with your boss. The situation may not be about your talents and accomplishments at all. Keeping your cool will help you continue the conversation to gain valuable insight and think logically about next steps—and win respect.
Once emotions are in check, ask for feedback on your value to the company and how you can better contribute to organizational goals. Also inquire about the traits and skills needed for you to grow.
Then, be prepared to use that information. Work hard on meeting these goals, making your contributions more visible throughout the company, building professional relationships outside of your department, and better navigating office politics. In six months, maybe you can circle back for another raise request—and prevail.
The Worst-Case Aftermath
Back in your office after a raise rejection, vow to avoid disengaging in a noticeable way. That means not doing the bare minimum on work, being late or leaving early, or complaining about the company (or your manager). That negative outlook will only irk colleagues. Your pity party will also be remembered more than your past accomplishments and could kill a future career move, with degrees of separation being a mere LinkedIn click away.
And what if, while asking about growth, your manager hints that there is absolutely, positively no path to a raise? That may signal it’s time to move on sooner rather than later. In other words, your next step will involve pursuing opportunities that can fulfill the desired increase or a new role you’ll surely rock.
In any case, be sure to celebrate your courage, assertiveness, and initiative. Just the practice of asking will help you develop a growth mindset, which will ultimately advance your career to new heights. After all, the real worst-case scenario isn’t hearing a no. It’s not having asked to begin with.