Asking for a Raise When You’re Afraid To

Much has been written about how to negotiate for a better salary. But what about when you’re not sure you deserve a raise in the first place?

As an executive coach for more than 30 years, I’ve worked with many top leaders who appear extremely successful externally, yet struggle with their self-worth. Michael, an esteemed leader in his company, stands out in particular. He was dedicated and loyal, and had been doing his job diligently for years.

But when several longtime colleagues left the company, their positions were filled by new hires — who he discovered through office chatter were all being paid more than he was. At first he shrugged it off, but this new information started to trouble him. He realized that he was managing a team of 140 people but making significantly less than new hires with teams of only 20 to 30 — and in one case, just five.

He started to feel uncomfortable and insecure. Why didn’t they offer him a raise? Did they not appreciate him? Didn’t they see how hard he worked?

He lost his enthusiasm for his job. Where he had once been a positive force, he now found himself feeling sullen, resentful, and distrustful. He knew his only chance to reclaim satisfaction at work was to ask for a raise. But for reasons he couldn’t even identify, he hesitated.

Objective reality showed an easy case for a raise: He worked harder than most and had a bigger team. He had more seniority within the organization and more experience in his field. He had great results and his team performed consistently well year after year. But his changed work situation had resulted in a massive failure of self-esteem.

For leaders facing this situation, it’s important first to understand and acknowledge your self-worth – and then learn how to sell it within your company. Here are four steps to make it happen.

Develop a sense of urgency. It’s human nature to seek out safety, and – especially if you’re not confident in your abilities – it may seem risky to ask for a raise. But the truth is, you may already be past the breaking point. If you’re finding yourself resentful and frustrated, you have two options: stick with what you’re doing, knowing how deeply dissatisfying it is, or step up and ask. Recognize that if you don’t take action, your dissatisfaction may leak out through words or deeds, and damage the reputation you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

Of course, you may fear that your request for a raise is unreasonable. That’s why it’s essential to boost your confidence with competitive research. Consult salary surveys on the Internet to get a sense of what competitors are offering for your position, to establish a lower and upper pay scale. To the extent possible based on what you know, compare your compensation to that of others in your organization, allowing for factors like changes over time to the benefits packages for new hires. That can give you baseline information that’s useful in negotiation, and it will also likely increase your confidence, as you know for certain that your request is within reason and supported by sound data.

Next, it’s time for a personal assessment. You’ll want to look at almost every factor to get a complete picture, from your educational background to your long-term record within the organization to your team’s performance in the past quarter. Most importantly, make a list of the things that make you unique and set you apart from others in your company. You can draw anecdotes and hard data from performance reviews, personal letters and commendations, and client satisfaction surveys. Look for documented instances where goals have been met, sales and revenue earned, detailed performance statistics, initiatives you’ve undertaken, and key areas where you’ve demonstrated your loyalty and commitment.

When you’ve amassed this mound of information, you’re almost certain to feel worthy to make a case for yourself. Note that it’s important not to treat this as a one-time event; instead, set up an ongoing system to document and periodically communicate your accomplishments to your boss and, where relevant, throughout the organization.

Finally, even though you should approach the negotiation with a collaborative mindset, it’s important to prepare for push back. You’ll need to anticipate and prepare for potential objections, and not let them rattle your confidence. If you encounter push back about your data, focus the conversation on understanding how your compensation is set. Above all, your objective is to gain agreement that the market rate you’re looking for is reasonable and equitable, without giving up. It’s useful to do some practice sessions with a coach or trusted colleague, to ensure you can respond to objections without getting overheated and end the conversation on a positive note.

Even those who know they deserve it can have a hard time asking for a raise – and it’s especially challenging if the voice inside your head wonders whether you’re really deserving. But don’t let other people’s opinions define your value. Take an honest look at your own achievements and the competitive landscape. You’ll feel more confident in asking for what you’re worth. Even if your boss is resistant, if you’ve crafted a strong enough case, it’s likely that if you’re brave enough to ask, your true value will eventually shine through.


Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness is being released by Portfolio May 2017.

3 Responses to “Asking for a Raise When You’re Afraid To”

  1. Dick Wagner

    09. Mar, 2017

    What you describe here is so common all over the workplace. Thanks for the excellent insight into ways to “raise” your self-esteem and prevent a death spiral.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Sanaul Haque

    11. Mar, 2017

    Type your comment here…

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