The 4 little words you should always use when asking for a raise


Your success in a salary negotiation often comes down to how you frame your request.


Using four simple words - when, I, feel, and need - could mean the difference between an open communication with your boss and your requests falling on deaf ears.

Dr. Michael McNulty, a master trainer from The Gottman Institute and founder of the Chicago Relationship Center, tells Business Insider that those who want to express a concern in any relationship should do so in a positive manner, avoid blaming language, use mostly "I" statements, and discuss your perspective, feelings, and needs, which is called the "gentle startup" technique.

It looks something like: "When X happens or happened, I feel Y, and I need Z."

Here's how you might ask for a raise using the "gentle startup" technique:


"When I look at my credentials and how hard I am working and compare my salary to others in my field ...

"I really feel discouraged.
"I feel worried about my family's financial future.
"I feel kind of sad, because I want to stay here.
"I like the people and the company.
"I do not feel like my contributions are seen or understood.
"I feel resentful.

"I need my salary to be reviewed.
"I need a higher salary.
"I need the opportunity for bonuses or profit sharing."

"This technique is so helpful in relationships of all kinds," McNulty says. "It helps to guard against the tendency that people feel to justify their feelings and needs so much so that they come off as critical or blaming to the other person before they are able to express what they feel and ask for what they want."

Experiments show that the parts of the brain that handle logic and reason go to sleep when people begin to feel attacked, while the parts of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response light up.


As Harvard Business School lecturers John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut observe in the book "Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential," a discussion is no longer an exercise in logic and reasoning when it becomes an argument.

One surefire way to make your boss feel criticized and defensive and ultimately shut down the discussion before it ever begins is to use what relationship experts call a "harsh startup."

According to McNulty, in a salary negotiation this might sound like: "You and this company just don't seem to care at all about my needs. How am I supposed to support a family on this? Who knows how anyone gets a raise around here anyway? If something does not change, I am gone!"

In romantic relationships, "if partners start a conversation in a negative manner, 97% of the time that conversation will end negatively," McNulty says. And as John Gottman, a psychologist, couples counselor, and relationships researcher for 40 years, posited in his book "The Relationship Cure," the same principles that make marriages work also hold true for many other kinds of relationships, like work relationships.

One way to avoid a harsh startup is to ask for a raise as soon as you legitimately feel as if you are underpaid. This may seem like simple advice, but most Americans have never even asked for a raise.


The goal is to express your needs sooner to avoid pent-up emotions getting the better of you.

"We're very conflict-avoidant in our culture, and so people sometimes are afraid to speak up about what they need from one another," McNulty says. "And then what tends to happen is, people store up their complaints, and they have to almost build up a sense of self-righteousness before they allow themselves to even express their needs and their feelings."

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