A Literary & Philosophical Guide to Negotiating a Raise

Optimize salary talks with wisdom from Borges to Sun Tzu. Balance strategy and humility, avoid envy and flattery. Structure arguments like an architect, and shape your future like Odysseus.

A Literary & Philosophical Guide to Negotiating a Raise
Photo by Ben Rosett / Unsplash

In the current climate of escalating inflation, contemplating a salary increase is not just a financial consideration but also an intellectual exercise. As we enter performance review season, we can draw upon a tapestry of literary and philosophical insights to guide us through this delicate negotiation, presenting a unique blend of wisdom and strategy. Don't forget, this is also a great time to get ahead on nailing next years performance review while you're at it.

Borges' fascination with labyrinths offers a metaphor for the complex paths one must navigate in a salary discussion. Approach the conversation as a journey through a maze, where each turn represents a strategic choice of words and arguments. Be mindful of the intricate paths and dead ends; clarity and direction in your communication are key.

Refrain from Threatening - Inspired by Émile Pouget

During a discussion, if you sense hesitance from your employer, avoid resorting to threats or tactics akin to a "work-to-rule" stance. Such actions suggest prioritizing personal gains over company interests and can be misconstrued as anarchistic, referencing Émile Pouget's "Sabotage" (1896). Employers wary of potential declines in work quality or commitment might reconsider your position in the company.

"The Balance of Duality" - Lessons from Yin and Yang

The Taoist concept of Yin and Yang embodies the balance of opposites. In your request, balance humility with confidence. Reflect on the Tao Te Ching's wisdom of knowing oneself and one's worth, while maintaining the grace of humility. This equilibrium is crucial in presenting a persuasive argument for your raise.

Steer Clear of Flattery - Inspired by Baltasar Gracián

Excessive flattery, especially towards HR, can be counterproductive. Baltasar Gracián, in "The Courtiers Manual Oracle: Or, the Art of Prudence" (1647), warns against hyperbolic praises, noting it can reflect poorly on your judgment and authenticity. Remember, HR professionals are adept at discerning sincerity from sycophancy.

"The Art of War and Salary" - Sun Tzu's Strategic Influence

Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" offers valuable insights into strategic planning. Understand your employer's needs and align your request accordingly. Anticipate their concerns and prepare responses, mirroring Sun Tzu's emphasis on knowing both yourself and your adversary to ensure success without conflict.

Avoid Overconfidence - Insights from René Descartes

It's natural to highlight your contributions when asking for a raise, but be wary of overdoing it. Descartes in "Passions of the Soul" (art.157) distinguishes between pride and vainglory, cautioning against the latter. Overemphasis on one's indispensability might come off as egotistical and create an impression of constant dissatisfaction. Strike a balance between self-confidence and humility.

"To Build a Case" - Drawing Inspiration from Architectural Principles

Consider the architect's approach to building: laying a solid foundation, designing with aesthetics and function in mind, and constructing with precision. Your argument for a raise should be similarly structured, with a strong foundation (your achievements and value to the company), appealing design (the benefits of granting you a raise), and precise execution (clear, concise communication).

Avoid Envy - Inspired by Adam Smith

Beginning your request by referencing a co-worker's pay hike sets a negative tone. Adam Smith, in "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" (1759), warns against envy, noting it as a resentful emotion towards others' deserved success. Displaying envy could not only jeopardize your chances of a raise but also paint you as a non-team player, potentially affecting your involvement in future projects. If you must mention a colleague, do so without any undertones of bitterness.

"The Odyssey of Your Career" - Homeric Echoes in Your Journey

Channel the epic journey of Odysseus in Homer's "Odyssey" as a metaphor for your career trajectory. Share your journey's challenges and triumphs, illustrating your resilience, growth, and contributions to the company. Like Odysseus' journey, your career is a story of overcoming obstacles and achieving goals, deserving of recognition and reward.

Don't Seek Pity - Cicero

While you may have valid reasons for needing more income, seeking pity can backfire. HR might counter with examples of others in more challenging situations. Cicero, in "De Oratore," advises brevity when discussing personal misfortunes, as emotional appeals often have a fleeting impact and could be perceived as manipulative once the emotional moment passes.

Concluding Your Odyssey: Crafting the Future

Remember that this meeting is not just about the present but about shaping your future. Emphasize your dedication to ongoing growth, your commitment to the company’s vision, and how a raise is not just a personal gain but an investment in the company's collective future. Be like Odysseus, not just seeking a destination but also creating a legacy.