What Not to Say When Asking for a Raise—and 7 Things to Say Instead, According to Negotiation Experts

Updated: Jan. 18, 2024

Negotiating a raise is all about empathy, compromise and asking the right questions. We have info on what not to say when asking for a raise, plus scripts to follow to get what you want.

In an ideal world, you’d be compensated fairly for the work you do, and your employer would be happy to pay you. Alas, this is not an ideal world. Rarely do companies and employees agree exactly on salary, so if you think you’re due for a raise, not only do you have to ask for it, but you also need to make your case for why it’s a good idea. Understandably, emotions can run high in these moments, and if you don’t know what not to say when asking for a raise, you may torpedo your chances or even let bad business etiquette hurt your career.

“Negotiating a raise is ultimately about compromise. It’s about balancing your own objectives with those of the company in a way that makes both parties feel like they got at least some of what they wanted,” says Andres Lares, a professional negotiator and managing partner at the Shapiro Negotiations Institute. “Preparing in advance is the best thing you can do to increase your chances of getting that raise—not to mention that your preparation is the only aspect you have direct control over.”

Whether you work from home or commute into the office, digital etiquette and in-person etiquette are in agreement here: There are certain phrases you should never utter and others that’ll lead to more money in the bank. Before you send your boss a meeting invite, browse the advice below, which comes from experts who know how to ask for a raise and negotiate a salary that matches their worth.

Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more career tips, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.

The two types of raises

When it comes to negotiating compensation, you’re not just talking about the dollar number for your salary, says Rebecca Metts, the director of human resources at an aerospace company and an HR management consultant with more than 10 years of experience. So your first order of business—before you ever approach your boss—is to determine what, exactly, you’re asking for. To do that, you need to know which of the two main types of raises you’re requesting.

A raise without a promotion

“These raises are usually based around an increase in cost of living, like inflation, or an increase in the market rate for your position in your area. These would mean that based on comparisons, you’re currently underpaid in your job,” Metts explains.

Whether you’re asking for a bump of $5 an hour or $5,000 a year, asking for a raise without a promotion is about looking at comparisons and data points in your area and field.

A raise with a promotion

The other situation that prompts people to ask for a raise is when they want to move up in their career to a position with more responsibility. And oftentimes, they’re already doing additional work, Metts says.

“Negotiating these raises is about looking toward the future, how your skills currently add value and how you are helping and will help your company move forward and progress,” she says. These types of raises usually come with a title change, along with increased pay and benefits.

Communication is everything

Once you know which type of raise you’re going for, how do you communicate that to the higher-ups in the most effective way? We asked Metts, Lares—who is the author of Persuade: The 4-Step Process to Influence People and Decisions—and an HR expert to share what not to say when asking for a raise and what to say instead.

Don’t say: “I deserve this raise.”

What Not To Say When Asking For A Raise And 7 Things To Say Instead According To Egotiation Experts 1RD.COM, GETTY IMAGES

“I’ve approved and written raises for hundreds of people, and this is the top thing that people said that irked me the most,” says Cynthia Banks, a professor of business at the University of Colorado–Boulder, former CEO of a global education company and a career coach. “Any variation of ‘I’ve done so much for this company’ or ‘You owe this to me’ is couched in blame and guilt, and that will immediately put your manager on the defensive. And you never want to start a negotiation where one party is already feeling antagonistic.”

She adds that, from your boss’s perspective, you’re already being paid a rate for your job that you and the company agreed was fair. So if you want more money, you need to show them the extra value you’re bringing.

Say this instead: “I so enjoy working for this company, and I’m excited to help it grow in X way. I think my skills would be a great match for this project, and I’d love to talk more with you about how to grow my career here.” This opens the door for negotiating from a positive place, Banks says. Being entitled or demanding is one of the bad work habits you should avoid.

Don’t say: “I have another offer. If you can’t match it, I’m walking.”

What Not To Say When Asking For A Raise And 7 Things To Say Instead According To Egotiation Experts 2RD.COM, GETTY IMAGES

Want to avoid being annoying to your manager? Skip childish responses like this. “No one likes to be given an ultimatum or told what to do,” Lares says. “Instead of trying to force their hand, focus on being collaborative.”

Remember, your company has a vested interest in keeping you happy, as it is almost always more cost-effective for them to give you a raise than to hire a new employee. He adds that it is fine to use other offers as leverage in negotiating a raise—so long as you are prepared to take that other offer.

In other words: Don’t bluff. Threatening to quit is exactly what not to say when asking for a raise.

Say this instead: “I love working here, and I’d rather stay, but I need to be realistic about these other offers. Can we talk about it?” Ultimatums are conversation-enders. Asking questions starts a nuanced conversation about how a raise can be mutually beneficial, Lares says.

Don’t say: “I looked on Glassdoor, and other software engineers are making $100,000, so I think I should be paid that too.”

What Not To Say When Asking For A Raise And 7 Things To Say Instead According To Egotiation Experts 3RD.COM, GETTY IMAGES

You absolutely should be doing online research to find out the market rate for your job in your area, Metts says. But use that info to guide how you negotiate—not as your opener.

It may be quite true that you’re underpaid, but pointing that out immediately again risks making your manager feel defensive. Instead, first examine your company’s policy about cost-of-living raises and research comparable jobs—chances are, if you’re in a company with more than a handful of employees, there’s already a set process to appeal your salary and ask for a raise without a promotion.

“If there is an established process, follow it to the letter,” she says. “It can be a pain and some paperwork, but this really is your best bet to getting what you want.”

Say this instead: “Can you tell me how you got to the salary range for my job?” Asking this as a question invites your manager to be open to looking at the comps (that you’ve already prepared and, oh, just happen to have handy). “If nothing else, this gets your employer to think through how and why you are paid at the rate you are and opens the door to more conversation about it,” Banks says.

Don’t say: “I want $150,000 a year.”

What Not To Say When Asking For A Raise And 7 Things To Say Instead According To Egotiation Experts 4RD.COM, GETTY IMAGES

Focusing strictly on the dollar amount of your salary is a major rookie mistake, Metts says. “An employee’s total compensation package is about so much more than your salary, and negotiating these other factors can actually get you a better raise overall,” she says.

These other factors can include a yearly or performance bonus, relocation costs, a title change or promotion, more money toward your medical care, stock options or equity in the company, education expenses, more vacation time or PTO, or more flexibility in your work schedule or location. “Due to budgets and other constraints, your manager may not even be able to meet that number, so being flexible shows you’re willing to compromise and work with them to find a mutually agreeable solution.”

Say this instead: “I’d love to talk about the work I’ve been doing on X and how I can help the company meet its goals, along with the possibility of increasing my opportunities and compensation. When is a good time to chat?” Don’t come out of the gate with a hard number, Metts says. Be open to compromising some dollars in favor of a better work-life balance or a career advancement. “If you don’t like their raise offer, it’s fine to negotiate once and include other benefits you’d like,” Banks adds.

Don’t say: “I was thinking, it’s been a while since I’ve had a raise—I think I’m due for an increase. I’m a really hard worker!”

What Not To Say When Asking For A Raise And 7 Things To Say Instead According To Egotiation Experts 5RD.COM, GETTY IMAGES

There are a couple of reasons this is what not to say when asking for a raise. For starters, it makes you sound unsure and like you haven’t done your homework, Lares says. You should at least have a vague idea of how to get promoted and get raises in your organization, including what the timeline is. If you do your research, you can share your findings as a fact.

But the real issue with this approach is that it doesn’t focus on why you are asking for the raise or the potential benefits to your company, he says. Sure, you know you’re not a quiet quitter—you’re constantly going above and beyond. But the approach above doesn’t touch on the specifics of the hard work you’ve done.

“Companies don’t usually give raises just because ‘it’s time.’ You’re probably right that you do have a strong work ethic, so this is your moment to promote everything you’ve contributed to the company,” he says. “And don’t just say ‘You know I’m a hard worker.’ Provide them with concrete examples and documentation of what you’ve done.”

Say this instead: “I’ve been doing A, B and C, all of which have provided some great benefits to the company, like X, Y and Z. But what else can I do to help our company continue to grow or meet its goals? I would love to have a conversation about that, along with the potential for a raise or some type of compensation increase. When are you available to talk?”

Asking a question—especially one that shows you care about the company and want to help—shows empathy for your manager and their position, Lares says. “Empathy goes a really long way in negotiating a raise, he says. “You want to make it clear you’re on their side and want to work with them, not against them.”

If this statement feels like a lot to say to your manager on a Monday morning drop-in, it’s totally fine to write it up in an email so you can organize your thoughts better, he says. Then follow up on it in person a day or two later.

Don’t say: “Why didn’t I get the raise? What did I do wrong? Why don’t you guys like me?”

What Not To Say When Asking For A Raise And 7 Things To Say Instead According To Egotiation Experts 6RD.COM, GETTY IMAGES

There’s no harm in asking for a raise—unless you take an argumentative approach. There’s a reason experts talk about what not to say when asking for a raise: Tactics like the one above can hurt your future chances of getting a raise.

Remember, raises are ongoing negotiations throughout your time with the company, so it’s not a one-and-done conversation, Lares says. “It’s normal to be upset if you don’t get what you want, but too many people take it personally and then say things that hurt their chances of getting a raise in the future,” he says. “Never act when you’re upset. Take a beat to breathe and think things through before expressing your disappointment.”

Say this instead: “I understand you are under a lot of pressure (or are dealing with a lot of different factors), and I respect your decision at this time. I enjoy providing value to this company, and I hope we can revisit the conversation about a raise. Would it be OK to check back with you in six months?”

“Ultimately, you want to keep the focus on your strengths and keeping the conversation open, not the salary,” Lares says. In the meantime, you can also do a little career cushioning by learning new skills that make you more marketable.

Don’t say: “You promised me a raise six months ago!”

What Not To Say When Asking For A Raise And 7 Things To Say Instead According To Egotiation Experts 7RD.COM, GETTY IMAGES

You already negotiated a raise, so why aren’t you seeing it in your paycheck? Sometimes managers promise things they can’t fulfill, or the company’s circumstances have changed, or they simply forgot, Metts says. And unfortunately, there are some managers who will say anything to temporarily make you feel better, including lies about a raise.

“Unless you got it in writing, a verbal promise of a raise isn’t worth much,” she says. (But even emails or texts can count as documentation, so be sure to check those, she adds.)

This is an incredibly frustrating situation, but it doesn’t mean you still can’t get your raise—and possibly negotiate for back pay, depending on the circumstances. But there’s a way to complain politely and still get what you want. “You just need to be diplomatic in the way you approach it,” Banks says. “Go in assuming the best intentions, even if you think the worst is possible.”

Say this instead: “I was just thinking about that conversation we had a while ago about my raise. I’m not sure what is holding it up, but I hope we can get it sorted out! I’m a company person, and I enjoy working here, so can we have a conversation about how to make this happen before [insert date]?”

Some managers just need to be reminded, Metts says. But if your manager keeps giving you the runaround, it may be time to look for a new job. (By the way, if you’ve been applying for new jobs with no luck, here’s why you’re not getting hired.)

About the experts

  • Andres Lares is a professional negotiator with more than 15 years of experience, including negotiating contracts for professional athletes. He is a managing partner at the Shapiro Negotiations Institute and author of Persuade: The 4-Step Process to Influence People and Decisions.
  • Rebecca Metts is the director of human resources at an aerospace company and an HR management consultant with more than 10 years of experience.
  • Cynthia Banks is a professor of business at the University of Colorado–Boulder. She was the CEO of a global education company for more than 20 years and now works as a career coach and runs a consulting business.