Dear Dr. Sadaqat Ali,
How can I convince my boss to give me the promotion and pay raise I am owed? This year I came back into mainstream office activity after resolving some my personal issues. I got more and more responsibility over the course of the year and my manager reassured me he had no concerns about my performance and that he would see about getting me my promotion at year-end. I recently approached him about the promotion and he said that I first needed to write up my strengths and weaknesses as well as long-term goals. He said he couldn’t support me getting my promotion until he had this in his hands. It seems like he’s adding steps after the fact. It was a big letdown from the expectations he set earlier in the year. How can I convince him to see my point of view?
Dear Put Off,
Let me start with the most abrupt thought. Your very request is worded in a way that makes me wonder if your first challenge will be to change your motives. You asked, “How can I convince him?” If my goal in a conversation is to convince the other person, then I tend to come at it in ways that reveal my motive. My goal becomes to “be right” and “prove my point” or “win” with all behaviors attendant to those motives. This is doomed from the outset and tends to cause the other person to resist rather than consider my views.
First of all, the goal of dialogue is not to “convince” but to “contribute to the pool of meaning.” You have some very clear and compelling concerns based on your experience that it is important for your boss to consider. And yet, he probably has some other views that you are unaware of. Your goal in the conversation must not be to get your raise; it must be to get a fair and reasonable outcome. Put differently, your goal must be to come to a common understanding of where you and your boss stand. If that is your motive, you will approach this as dialogue rather than monologue.
Second, the root cause of most violated expectations is unclear expectations. We have conversations and leave drawing different conclusions. Or we remember it differently. Or things change and we assume others are revising their expectations accordingly–and they aren’t! Unfortunately, this advice will be useful in the future but not the present. It is this. If you do not have a written confirmation of your pay and promotion expectations with your boss, then you made a mistake. Never let a conversation about such a high stakes topic end without summarizing and even documenting your agreements. If you have this documentation, it becomes the starting point for the conversation you are trying to have now. If you don’t have it, you have no clear starting point.
Third, given your history (a problematic previous year or two, recently returned, increasing return of responsibilities over the year) and given your bosses response, I have a strong intuition that he is not leveling with you. He may well be putting you off because he has been less than candid about his view of your performance. If that is so, then once again, the purpose of your crucial conversation needs to be to solicit his views and concerns. You must make it safe for him to be totally honest with you about your performance. If you don’t, he may continue to feel a need to be political with you.
Finally, just fill out the darned form. If all he’s asking for is a simple sheet with your self-assessment and goals–why quibble about it? You may be telling yourself a story that makes this out to be bigger than it is. The next step in my view is for you to change your story–let this be a small bureaucratic request in your mind not a big retreat from your expectations. Comply with it. And see if that doesn’t solve the problem!
I wish you the best and hope for an outcome that is positive for both of you.
All the best,
Dr. Sadaqat Ali