The talk is of strategies, tactics, ploys. Of risks, threats, fear and courage.
It may sound like something out of a Pentagon war-gaming session, but if you're considering asking for a raise, you'll have to learn to think in those terms, according to the experts.
Walking into the front office with visions of big bucks dancing in one's eyes can be as fearsome to some as making the landing at Normandy. Or maybe no one can forget Dagwood Bumstead's endless struggle to pry a few more dollars from Mr. Dithers. No one's eager to fight with the boss.
Fear in approaching the boss is understandable, says John J. Tarrant, author of "How to Negotiate a Raise," but it isn't logical. "People fear rejection . . . they see a 'no' from the boss as a judgement of their worth." It's particularly hard for the "employe who is friendly with his supervisor; he doesn't want to rock the boat or make an enemy."
But remember, says Tarrant, who believes his is the only how-to book devoted entirely to advice on getting a pay raise, "The boss is your adversary . . . your opponent in a real-life game." The book, which he says sold 15,000 in hard cover, is now in a Pocket Book paperback.
Tarrant suggests two "basic ploys" to use in dealing with a hesitant boss. They are a form of "intellectual blackmail," he says:
If the boss tells you, "It's been a tough year," first get a commitment from him anyway for a raise if he could grant it. Then "use a chicken-little" approach by exaggerating your reaction.
"I didn't realize it was all that bad," you could say, implying that you might spread the word in the rest of the office. "Well," the boss should reply in this scenario, "maybe things aren't so bad after all" and open the company wallet. Tarrant says he has used this tactic and knows how it works.
If the boss argues, "It's not in the budget," get the conditional agreement again and then respond with "I really though you had more authority than that . . . can I talk to someone who has more authority?" That should loosed up the purse strings.
"Facing the boss for more money was an act of bravery for me," recalls a 33-year-old Washington lobbyist. Her courage - and tenacity - netted her four raises in 13 months, for an $8,000-a-year increase in her paycheck.
"You've got to plan ahead," advises Miryam Drucker, director of the Washington School for Secretaries, who tells her students to "toot your own horn" if they want more money.
Many employes never face the raise problem. They get their salary increase in annual pay reviews, through union contracts or by moving up the promotion ladder, and they're contend with what they get. Big-time entertainers hire agents to do the dirty work.
Developer Oliver T. Carr, whose work force is raising buildings all over town, says his employes don't ask him for pay raises. "We have a regular, automatic evaluation. We rate the job objectives to the job performance." Carr himself has never asked for a raise, since he's always worked on a commission or been self-employed.
The marketing director for a private financial corporation couldn't remember going to the boss for a raise either. "I just thought they came twice a year, and you waited for them."
Often bosses - to be fair - can't come up with the raise you ask for even if they wanted to. Your firm may have a policy limiting raises, or higher authorities can turn down a supervisor's recommendation.
In the federal government, "I run into the most difficult when I want to give somebody a raise - I have to take on the whole bureaucracy," says one assistant secretary in a Cabinet department, who explains that two people he would like to reward have reached the maximum limit their jobs call for.
One tactic often used, he says, is rewriting job descriptions to enlarge the responsibility of the job and qualify it for more pay.
The people with the advice say your chances are good if you try.
At the Hechinger hardware chain, which employs 1,000 full-time and 1,000 part-time workers, an employe who asks for a raise is listened to, and then the firm checks to see if the employe has made a valid case. "Nobody is turned down out of hand," says president John Hechinger Sr., noting that such requests are few because of the firm's semi-annual increases. He adds that an employe's complaint is "a valuable management tool."
The lobbyist who won big discovered - and then perfected - her tactic over a 13-month period.
She had taken a pay cut when she went to work in the Washington office of a national association, but it was a job she wanted and the raises, if not large, came regularly.
Still, after five years, she felt she was just keeping pace with the increasing cost of living and had not made any substantive salary gains. It was time, she realized, to ask for big money.
"I planned what I was going to say and I worked on it," she recalls. "There's a time when you feel you're worth more money . . . when you know it." She rehearsed her case outlining her growth with the association and headed for the boss' office.
Her first move, she said, was to make sure the boss was in a receptive mood. "Do you have the time to sit and talk?" she recalls asking, and then, she "went right into it. I essentially said I wasn't happy with my pay" while detailing her increased responsibilities. Apparently she was convincing; she got a commitment.
But when the raised - $2,500 - appeared on her paycheck, it wasn't enough. So she marched back into the front office and asked:
"Is this it?" Suddenly her boss was on the defensive, she says, and he agreed to a six-month review. But in only three months she got another raise. "Is this it?" she asked again. "Well no, no it isn't," he replied.
Using this tactic again and then again, she received the $8,000 in raises-and a promotion. It's a story she's told to other Washington women working their way up the pay scale. She's asked that her name not be used because she's going to go after another raise.