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Negotiation Q&A: How to Ask for More at Your Review

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Dear Negotiators,

I was hoping to initiate a salary increase negotiation during my upcoming mid-year performance review. However, I'm reluctant to do so as this will be my first ever salary negotiation, and I feel a little awkward. 

A quick background on my situation: I have been in the workforce for six years and with my current employer for 18 months. As part of my package with my current employer, I am eligible for a 10% bonus, but last year I was told that I was being bumped into a 15% bonus package. As a result, I was given the full 15% (after working at the company for only 10 months). Ultimately, with this big bonus, I was only given the average 2% salary increase. There are two other people in my team who are considered to be at my level (but they did not receive a 15% bonus). 

It is very clear and obvious that I endure more work and take on more responsibilities than the other two (as I'm often complimented by my boss and her superiors for the work that I do). Therefore, I feel that for many reasons I should deserve a salary increase that differentiates me from others and properly reflects my work. 

However, I am afraid that requesting a salary increase would be considered "out of line" from my employer's point of view, given the huge bonus I got last year (and may potentially get this year). Any advice would be greatly appreciated. 

—Nervous Nellie

Dear Nellie,

Here’s the bad news: If you’ve been in the workforce for six years, and all that time have gratefully accepted what you were offered, you’ve no doubt left money on the table.

But, most of us have been there, too, and I want to commend you for waking up early in your career and attuning to the wisdom of negotiating. You have every right to negotiate here, and, though I know it’s nerve-wracking, you can get through it with some preparation and practice. So, let’s get started on your first-ever salary negotiation!

First, let’s look at your situation with a cool, logical head.

  1. You are a high performer.
  2. You are efficient and can outwork pretty much everyone on your team.
  3. Your boss and superiors compliment your work.
  4. You were awarded a 15% bonus because of 1, 2, and 3 above, and most likely because of your future potential.
  5. Now, let’s look at what’s possibly lurking underneath:

    1. You are afraid of being perceived as greedy.
    2. You are afraid of rejection.
    3. You are underestimating your value and potential in the hands of your employer and team.
    4. You are unsure about the language and process of negotiation.
    5. The fears women have about negotiating are legendary. Women are four times less likely to negotiate than men, and on top of that, tend to work 10% faster and 22% longer for the same reward. But, remember this: When you fail to ask for what you’re worth, you stand to lose up to $1 million over the course of your career, thus solidifying your own wage gap and, often, your early exit from the leadership track.

      So, as Bob Newhart would say in this famous clip on YouTube, stop it.

      In truth, that’s an honest prescriptive. But when the light goes on and we see the impact of our behavior, the next thing we tend to ask is, “Yes, but how exactly do I turn my awareness into action?”

      The answer: Practice.

      Whether we’re learning to dance or speak a foreign language or master Excel, we run through a learning curve that includes discovery, experimentation, failure, correction, and mastery. So, what we have to be committed to is an ongoing process, not a one-time fix. You will be negotiating from now until your end of days, and I encourage you to look at negotiation as a communication discipline that you practice and get better at over time.

      But for now, let’s get to work on the situation at hand.


      To prepare for your conversation, you need to research your market value by going to sites like or PayScale. Don’t be afraid to print it out and bring it with you to the meeting. It helps to have the data if you get nervous or trip over your words.

      Next, make sure you’ve made a list of all your accomplishments and results. No doubt you will cover them in your review, thereby creating the backdrop for your salary request.

      Take a look at all the free resources on our website, particularly the docs titled How to Source and Research What You’re Truly Worth, Negotiation Prep Worksheet, and Terms and Definitions. The site also includes several book recommendations (Getting to Yes is a good one to start with). Reading a book or two will help you understand the process and vocabulary of negotiation, and give you confidence as you practice.

      The Script

      Next, here’s a little script that might be helpful to tweak and put into your own words prior to your upcoming performance review.

      Let’s say you’ve launched the meeting with your boss with a bit of small talk—kids, dogs, travel, food—and gotten connected. Small talk is an important part of negotiation and shouldn’t be skipped.

      Let’s also say you’ve done the review part and have a handle on your marks and upcoming goals, milestones, and projects in the pipeline for the coming year.

      At this point, it’s time to launch into the actual negotiation.

      You: Boss, thank you for the clarity and for being such a strong supporter of my work. It’s a pleasure to work with you and the team. (Honest ingratiation is a fabulously helpful tactic.)

      Boss: You consistently do great work, and I am glad to have you. I really want to see you hit the ground running this year.

      You: Absolutely. Me too. I know I can do X, Y, and Z, and I’m also really excited about Project X and what it could mean to the company when we pull it off.

      Boss: Yeah, it’s a big year ahead. So, anything else we should cover before we wrap this up?

      You: Thanks for asking. I want to thank you again for bumping my bonus up to 15% last year. It meant so much to me to be valued accurately for my contributions. It means progress in my career, not only in terms of skills and accomplishments, but also in terms of my leadership and future potential.

      Boss: Right, right. What’s on your mind?

      You: What I’d like to talk about is my base salary (Don’t turn that statement into a question.)

      Boss: Really? You should be happy with what you’ve got.

      You: I am happy with everything about my position and my work. Completely satisfied. But when I took this job, I didn’t negotiate. I didn’t try to capture my fair market value. Instead I chose to prove my value to you. (Here, you are reframing your failure to negotiate as a positive.)

      Boss: And you have done that, but I don’t see why the 15% bonus isn’t nixing the need for this conversation.

      You: The bonus is about hitting targets, and I’ve demonstrated my ability to do that with my work on A, B, and C. But the bonus is calibrated on my base salary, and according to my research, that base should be around $X, which is a more fair and accurate reflection of my work and my potential.

      Boss: All right, I’ll see what I can do.

      Before you let your boss disappear into busyness, make sure you suggest a start date for the new salary. And don’t try to get a date for the follow-up conversationset one before you leave the office.

      I know you’re nervous, but you do have something in your favor here: Performance reviews are an ideal time to negotiate. In fact, your boss probably expects that you’ll go in to the meeting asking for more. So, do your research, prepare your facts, practice this script with a trusted friend, and go in and make it happen.

      Good luck. You can do this.

      This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask an Expert in the subject line.

      Your letter may be published in an article on The Muse. All letters to Ask an Expert become the property of Daily Muse, Inc and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

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