It's Time to Ask for a Raise. Don't Let Your Nerves Get in the Way

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  • Asking for a raise at work can be anxiety-inducing.
  • But your finances have a lot to lose if your nerves wins out.
  • Here are some tips to help you go into the conversation with less stress and more confidence.

Asking for a raise at work is usually a little nerve-racking. The thought of doing so this year, with all the uncertainty the pandemic has brought us, may feel particularly daunting. Maybe you haven't seen your boss in person for months, or you've overheard reports that your company, like many, is struggling.

It may feel best to avoid the conversation altogether.

Your finances have a lot to lose if your anxiety wins out. One study found that women who regularly negotiate their salary earn at least $1 million more throughout their careers compared with women who don't.

And, paradoxically, not making the request may leave you feeling worse.

"Asking for what we believe is warranted [and] is important for our own peace of mind and self-confidence," said Jeff Shinal, a financial therapist in Leesburg, Virginia. "Avoidance undermines this."

Here are some tips to help you go into the conversation with your manager with less stress and more confidence.

Don't project

The reasons you worry you don't deserve a raise may not have even crossed your boss's mind, experts say.
The reasons you worry you don't deserve a raise may not have even crossed your boss's mind, experts say.

It can be useful to examine why asking for a raise has you on edge, experts say.

In doing so, you may find the reasons for your angst are more personal than, say, your objective performance over the year or your boss' ability to pay up.  

For example, if you have a "scarcity money mindset," you can live in fear that there isn't going to be enough of whatever you need, said Wendy Wright, a financial therapist in Denver. "You may easily slip into assuming your boss also lives in scarcity," Wright said, "or even that your whole company lives in scarcity." (In therapy terms, she said, this is called projection.)

"Recognizing that this is a belief and not necessarily a truth can be a game changer, and help free you up to ask for a raise based on other factors, such as what the market suggests," Wright said.

Others may have negative associations about asking for things, assuming, for instance, that it's selfish or arrogant, said Debra Kaplan, a financial therapist in Tucson, Arizona, and the author of "Battle of the Titans: Mastering the Forces of Sex, Money, and Power in Relationships."

"The anxiety we feel about a raise often results from a struggle with self-esteem, feeling inadequate or unworthy," Kaplan said.

Again, try to get out of your head. 

"The request for a raise should be based on objective fact gathering and not on a self-assessment of worth," Kaplan said. "Once we act in ways that are self-respectful and empowering, we learn that the fear we anticipate isn't real or as paralyzing as we thought." 

Practice, practice, practice

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"Asking for a raise is not something we do every day, so it's very normal to be anxious," said Mariah Hudler, a financial therapist in Sacramento, California. 

Practicing the conversation beforehand may increase your comfort level, Hudler said. "Practice with a friend, video yourself or practice in the mirror," she added. 

As you rehearse, take note of when your anxiety levels rise, Hudler said. "There is something that is being triggered in your brain and showing up physically for you," she added. 

Go over these moments extra times until they feel more polished.

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Jennifer Dunkle, a financial therapist in Fort Collins, Colorado, recommends compiling a list of all your accomplishments over the year. Not only will that be helpful information to share with your boss, but it can also make you feel better about yourself.

"Seeing it in black and white can decrease self-doubt," Dunkle said. 

Another way to feel more prepared going into the conversation is to gather earnings data for other people in similar roles inside and outside of your company, according to financial therapist Shinal.

"Can you make the case that you're underpaid for your role?" he said. "This will support the confidence that you have done your due diligence when asking for more money."

Asking in peace

Sweaty palms. Dry mouth. Stomach in knots. You may feel a surge of physical stress before you meet with your boss.

"Stay calm by talking at a moderate pace, breathing consistently and pausing when necessary to consider your responses," Shinal said. "This will help keep your heart rate in check."

If you're worried about misspeaking, remember that it's acceptable to take some time to consider something your boss just said or asked, Shinal said.

"We all have a space between experiencing a thought or emotion and acting on it," he said. "Use that space to be intentional when you speak and you will feel more in control of yourself."

Listening carefully to what your boss has to say will also help to keep you present and grounded, Shinal said.

"People are more receptive to others when they know they have been heard," Shinal said. "This will also help you manage stress because you will be focused on another person as part of the exchange."

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