“I think I’m worth more, but honestly, Darcy, I’m afraid to ask for more money at work. What if it ticks my boss off? Do I look greedy? Or what if she says no? Or even worse, what if I’m wrong and I’m really not worth it? Help!!”
If you’ve ever been afraid to ask for more money at work, you probably had the same worries my new client shared.
You’d think we’d have this down by now, right?
After all, people have been asking for more money at work for eons, maybe ever since Gorp asked Grawk for an extra bone from the dinosaur kill.
So why, when there are a million tools and advice columns out there on negotiating salary and asking for what you deserve, do we still struggle?
It’s that damn four-letter word, FEAR.
Add fear to our weird lovehate feelings about money and work, and you have a cauldron of steaming confusion.
So let’s shine a light on the fears, and dive into a few strategies to fight that fear of asking for more money.
Why We’re Afraid to Ask For More Money at Work: 3 Fears (& Strategies to Fight Them)
1. Fear of Not Being Worth What You’re Asking
Most people, no matter how outwardly confident we seem, worry that we’re not as good as we think we are.
And our even bigger worry is that others will someday find out.
Behavioral scientists call this the “imposter syndrome.”
(I just call it being human.)
This secret worry makes us afraid to ask for more money–or for almost anything. We’re not sure we’re worth it, deserve it, or have earned it.
So what do we do about that?
Action Strategy: Do Your Advance Work
The antidote to fear is preparation.
Yup, you’ve got to do your advance work if you want to ask for more money.
But here’s what nobody’s telling you.
This advance work is as much for YOU and YOUR BRAIN as it is to convince your boss or leader.
You can’t have a successful conversation about money if you don’t believe you’re worth it first.
Tools for Advance Work
While there are several online tools that roughly estimate pay, they often give you too broad of a range to be helpful. (If you’re under the low end of the range, that’s good data, but otherwise, telling you your role ranges from $50k-$150k/year isn’t useful.)
Instead, rely more on people.
- Are there people who’ve left recently who you have a good relationship with? Ask them to test your salary assumptions.
- “Based on what you were paid, and based on this role, does $XXX,XXX sound on track?”
- Ask current colleagues who like and respect you. I’m serious. They’re a great source of data. But here’s how to do it:
- “I’m thinking about my career path, and have been researching the value of my role. You’ve seen my work and results, and you’re connected to others in the industry, so I really trust your opinion. Based on my research, my current role seems to be worth about $XXX,XXX/year. Does that sound on track to you?”
Note that you’re NOT asking them what they make (nor are you telling them what you currently make).
You’re asking them for their opinion on the value of that role in the market.When you ask for opinion, you allow people to more safely express themselves, because opinion isn’t right or wrong.
(Fun fact–most people naturally compare your number against theirs, and may reveal theirs to you anyway.)
2. Fear of Not Knowing How to Ask
We mistakenly think that asking means putting ourselves in a one-down, needy position, like the kids begging for food in the musical “Oliver!”
It doesn’t have to be that way.
What if asking for more money wasn’t about you, but was about your commitment to maintaining the health of the business?
What if, by asking for what you’re worth, you were simply being a great steward of what’s right for the business?
Approaching this conversation with a business case mindset will help quiet your fears and battle the lizard brain that’s holding you back.
Action Strategy: Make the Business Case
Sure, market data (translation: what others in similar roles are making) is great, but what’s the bigger impact you’re making, translated into dollars? For example:
- “As you know, in my role, I’m responsible for $X million in sales and $Y million in marketing spend. I believe that role is worth $Z (salary/package you want.)”
- “The client I’m responsible for managing is worth $X a year to our company and our revenues last year from them grew at Y%. Based on that growth, I believe my role is now worth $Z.”
- “The team I support has grown from five to 12 in the past three years, and so my role has expanded. Based on what it looks like today, I believe my role is now worth $Z.”
Putting your salary in perspective with the bigger numbers makes a bigger number seem like a bargain. Plus, tying your increase to business financials makes it significantly easier for your boss to sell the change upward to her/his bosses.
Want to go deeper? Read “Tough Conversations at Work: Scripts for When It’s Time for Change.”
Chapter 7 of my book, “Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job,” goes deeper into how to ask for what you need. Check it out here.
3. Fear of Hearing “No”
Here’s the truth: “no” is an acceptable answer.
Even if you’ve done your advance work, organized your case, and asked with confidence, you may still hear “n0.”
But hearing “no” is more information than you had before. It’s significantly better than wondering if you’ll get a raise “someday.”
Plus, it’s worlds better than beating yourself up because you never asked at all.
If, after a good, honest conversation, the answer is “no,” you’ll then have a clearer picture about your value in the company.
With that data, you have choices:
- To ask for something else in exchange: paid attendance and travel to a professional conference, adjusted responsibilities, investment in more training or a coach for you
- To be okay with it and continue as is, or
- To not be okay with it and begin to take action to create change, whether right inside your current company or elsewhere.
Hear this: both options are possible.
If you hear “no,” that doesn’t mean you have to turn your back on a role that may benefit you in other ways. Nor does it mean it’s the end of the conversation. Keep following up, stay consistent with your ask, and you’ll significantly increase the odds of getting what you want.