Questions: Power Play or Information Seeking
Recently, I was part of a panel for this amazing organization called Glow Boston. At one point, I responded to a question with the recommendation that a person ask for clarification from her boss. That recommendation caused a stir in the room. There was a concern that asking the question would be viewed as challenging the power structure. Yes, asking a good question is powerful because you gain knowledge but it does not equate to a power play.
Learning the Rules of a Game
These comments reminded me of the card game bridge. That’s probably because I am learning the game and am discovering the numerous aspects to the game. The game has rules, players with different rolls, and a language all its own. Just like bridge salaries, business, and negotiations have rules, players, and languages of their own.
My guess is this woman believed the language at home would translate to work and thus cause a power struggle. When I heard the concern about power, I envisioned this women asking her husband – “are you wearing that out tonight?” and knowing that her husband would instantly turn around and change into what she would like him to wear. In such an example a question is passive aggressive and a means to elevate power.
The Language of Salary Negotiation
In work, a question can and should be a means to gain knowledge; to ensure all employees understand their role in a project; or that a problem is fully understand to ensure that a solution actually addresses the problem. Asking a question at work will not have your boss hear the unsaid follow up questions which your spouses, significant others, friends, and family can usually hear and react to without the tiresome need of actually saying them.
This is true in salary negotiation. Asking questions about how a salary was determined is not the same as stating that you believe your salary for your job should be 20% higher and listing the data that brought you to this conclusion. Nor is it the same as creating a hostile relationship with your soon to be manager. The language of salary negotiations is one of explicitness. Do not assume a thing. Clarify that you understand what the company is offering correctly. Clarify that the company understands your counter offer. And most importantly, ensure both parties are absolutely sure what the agreed salary and package is by putting it in writing before accepting the job, the raise, or the promotion.