Why There's Still Hope Even If You Can't Get A Raise

Let’s say you work at an organization where budgets are tight and you know you’ll be lucky if you get a cost of living increase, much less the raise you want and deserve. That doesn’t mean it’s game over for negotiating in your year-end performance review. Negotiation is about working with your counterpart to achieve your goals — and theirs, too.

The key is to be strategic about what you ask for. Make it easy for them to say yes to you by anticipating their needs in addition to your own. If you’re having trouble thinking of anything besides a raise or a promotion, you may be falling prey to the myth of the fixed pie.

What’s the myth of the fixed pie? Well, your typical pizza pie has eight slices. If you approach your negotiation with a fixed pie mentality, you assume there are only eight slices, and if you get all the slices, there are none left over for your counterpart. That’s where the myth comes in — you need to think bigger about other ways to add to the pie, because there’s always some way to make the pie bigger.

For example, if you’re buying a used car, you may assume the only issue in play is the price: you want to buy for as little as possible, and the seller wants to sell for as much as possible. What if the seller needs to get the car off his hands quickly? Now we see that there’s more than one thing at stake. When are you able to take possession of the car? Are you going to pay in full, or in installments? Will you pay interest? If it needs repairs, will the seller get them taken care of, or are they your responsibility? You get the idea.

So back to your performance review. You may not be able to get the raise you want, but what other issues can you add to the pie that will be compelling to both you and your manager? I recommend taking a step back to look at the big picture of your career. Given your experience and your current position, where do you see yourself in, say, two years? Maybe you’d like to be in a bigger role with more responsibility, or even at another company altogether. Perhaps you want to go to graduate school.

Once you have some ideas about your next step (and they don’t need to be crystal clear at this stage; go with your gut) you can think about what else you value.

You could ask to take on a direct report — even managing an intern is useful leadership experience if you’re early in your career or an individual contributor who isn’t on the management track. You could volunteer to lead a business project or even a company initiative. Many companies have interest groups for women, minorities, the LGBT community, and others. If your company doesn’t have something like this already, you could lead the charge.

Professional development opportunities like attending a conference or completing a certificate program at night can also be beneficial to both advancing your career and giving you skills that you bring back to the team. If you find a good opportunity, sell it as a one-time expense as opposed to a raise.


The key is to ask for an opportunity or experience that benefits the team now and will also be useful to your future self.

This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.

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Alexandra Dickinson

Alexandra Dickinson is the CEO and founder of Ask For It, a boutique consulting company working to close the gender wage gap by effecting change at both the institutional and individual level. We work with companies, schools, organizations and individuals through a combination of trainings, workshops and consulting. Our goal is for women and men to be paid based on their talents and skills, regardless of gender, and for our company to have been an important part of that change.