We all wish to make more money, so it is all the more important not to make unnecessary mistakes in negotiating a salary increase. Asking for more money can be intimidating – especially when you’re not sure if your request will be seen as inappropriate.
However, there are actually some common mistakes that many professionals make when asking for a raise and I’m going to be addressing those. For example, the current Gender Pay Gap 2021 in Germany is still strikingly unfair: Women still earned 18% less per hour than men. Statistically, the salary of foreigners is also lower than the average, but here too the reasons are complex.

On a regular basis, I hold salary negotiation workshops for German professionals. The participants repeatedly express their fears of making mistakes and messing up their salary increase.

In this article and the two episodes of the podcast, I share seven deadly mistakes you should avoid in your salary increase negotiation.

In Part 1 I’m talking about the magic word ADJUSTMENT instead of a raise. This was the gamechanger, that helped me understand what salary and compensation are actually about.

In Part 2 I’m sharing further mistakes that we need to avoid when approaching our boss, supervisor or management that we need to have a salary adjustment.

#1 Salary increase mistake: To signal that you’ll be more expensive for your company

Imagine you’re in a meeting with your supervisor and you say: 

“Dear Boss, I want to talk to you about a pay rise!”.

I have no idea how such a call would go down with you. But if I were your supervisor, I would hear one thing above all: I have to pay more for one of my employees.

There’s a cool alternative. which is simply elegant: Instead of asking for a raise, you talk about a salary adjustment.

That could be the only fair thing to do because it sounds like you’ve been doing more and more for the company. You might have made some important contributions or saved us money in an important manner by trimming costs or saving us in other ways. These and similar reasons will also help you to define your salary expectations when applying for a job.

The power of such reframing is immense. With yourself, you notice how the focus shifts towards your performance. No longer a matter of granting you a raise. Instead, it becomes a question of honor.

#2 Mistake: Arguing with your employment duration

Now, let’s again imagine us sitting in the meeting room with the manager. This time you say:

“Dear boss, I haven’t had a raise in the last 6 years. I really want a salary adjustment.”

What do you think?

First, you’re already using the magic word “adjustment” instead of raise. That’s good.
However, there’s big but:
The fact that you’ve been doing this job for 6 years does not mean that you deserve to receive more money.

6 years ago you agreed that you’re compensated with this salary in exchange for your work. If you’re doing the same work and of the same quality, then the old salary is what you’ve agreed on.

What you need to do is, to tell him that you have improved your performance, work more effectively, taken on more important tasks. You need substantial arguments.

Best, if you have ZDF. You know, that’s the German abbreviation for Zahlen (figures), Daten (data), Fakten (facts). Meaning you need to prove with details and examples, clients’ names, etc. what you’ve accomplished.

#3 Mistake: Argue with the pay of your colleagues

Again, we’re in the salary negotiation meeting, or at the end of the appraisal meeting. You say:

“Boss, I heard that Jean-Michel, who does the same tasks, gets 300 EUR more. That’s unfair and I want that too”.

I feel with you. To have found out that your colleague is getting higher pay than you is a nightmare. Not being appreciated for your work is a sting that really goes deep.

Even though I feel your frustration, I wouldn’t tell my manager. In German companies, management doesn’t want their employees to talk about their salaries. At least, if there’s no right to equal pay among employees on the same level.

Therefore, many employment contracts still contain a paragraph that prohibits employees from talking about their wages in public. In fact, the employee is required to remain silent about it.

The labor courts have now established that an employer is not allowed to prohibit this.

Nevertheless, supervisors and management want to avoid public disclosure of the often differing salary levels of employees. Or worse, to be discussed publicly.

For this reason, letting your supervisor know that you have the amount of pay of others is normally not a wise move. Even though you may have started really low on your salary at the company. By the way, that’s a valid reason not to accept a job contract in the first place.

Knowing the salary of your colleagues will open up new negotiating space for you. After all, you have now the verification that there’s more money in the budget.

#4 Salary mistake: Putting a gun to your managers’ head

What do you think of this bold demand:

“Hey, boss, my salary is too low. I’m underpaid ! …. if you don’t boost my salary, I’m out.”.

Hey, are you kidding? Are you putting a gun on your manager? What options are left for your manager? She or he has to decide what rather lose: A good employee, or her or his face.

It’s quite clear that such an argument can only backfire. But that can still occur easily in a debate.

Namely, when emotions are running high.

If you feel unappreciated or totally disappointed in your job, this kind of statement may be uttered in the heat of an argument.

It’s much smarter if we win our boss to follow you. If we treat her or him as a friend. When we’re cooperative.

Confrontation doesn’t lead anywhere.

The Harvard concept, which is one of the most famous negotiation concepts created some 30 years ago at Harvard University says we need to be gentle in the relationship, but tough in the matter. We need to find a solution that makes both parties a winner.

Only then we’re able to keep our good relationship at the workplace.

And the respect for each other.

#5 Mistake: Request meekly

“Dear boss, … well …, it would be nice … if I could … maybe … get a raise of EUR 250.”.

Do you hear the hesitant, silent plea in it? Do you hear the subjunctives as well as the hope that your request will be fulfilled?

Through words and voice, we easily make ourselves smaller and smaller.

This request is such a weak request that might easily be ignored. With two soft words, you signal that your conversation is a trial balloon. You ask and you request… and it sounds that you’re ok if your request for a pay rise is denied.

Requesting a pay raise with a soft voice is a big topic in workshops in which I’m teaching women on the topic of negotiation. In Germany, women are still brought up learning they need to be like girls. Which means to be delicate, nice, sweet, and reserved.

In general, girls are not educated to be direct. They’re not encouraged to fight, be straightforward and claim their demands loud. But in business it’s sometimes needed to bang ones’ hands on the table and state in a low voice:
“Boss, that’s not enough money. My performance is worth much more than what I currently get. I don’t accept that anymore.”

Such words are not a request, but a demand. Spoken in a low tone, very specific what is wanted.

Without any diminutive expressions.
This is not so much a women’s topic, I believe, but a cultural one.

Being good at negotiating is not genetically predetermined. It is a skill.
We can align and learn. And we all get better with practice.

#6 Salary increase mistake: Give a salary range

“I would like a salary adjustment between 200 and 500 EUR”.

A span does not bring success in a negotiation.

Your boss doesn’t hear 500 EUR.

The boss hears only a small number, 200.

And will trade you down further. Then you might end up with 100 EUR.

There is only one good course of action, but it takes courage. It’s about giving a high number full of conviction and confidence: You need to give 500 EUR as the figure.

Then your boss will negotiate you down to 350 or 300 (and thinks he has done well).

#7 Salary increase mistake: Accept rejection

Now, what do you think of this: 

The Boss says: “No, can’t pay more. The company is short of money.”
And the employee answers: “Ok”

As a reminder: We are in negotiation right now, aren’t we? Now one party, the boss, says that, unfortunately, they cannot meet our demand.

If we accept that straight away, we are NOT in a negotiation.

Because a negotiation BEGINS with a “no”. It has to be like that.

If you don’t negotiate your salary, you could leave money on the table. If you pay attention to the points mentioned here, the conversation with the supervisor will be productive. It will result in increased esteem, respect, and, ultimately, a higher salary.
We hope that these helpful tips will guide you on your further career path!