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Karma Is Not A Negotiating Tool

October 15, 2014 at 10:45 AM

I am a big believer in karma. But to suggest that good karma should be the lynchpin of managing your career is not just wrong, but dangerous.

Yet that’s what Satya Nadella, the chief executive officer of Microsoft offered up as advice to working women at a recent women’s conference: “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along,” said Nadella. “That’s good karma. It will come back. That’s the kind of person that I want to trust, that I want to give more responsibility to.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Yet in a perverse way I am glad Mr. Nadella brought this issue into the spotlight. That the chief executive of the 34th largest company in the Fortune 500- with profits of nearly $22 billion on revenue of more than $78 billion-said this should be a wake up call to every woman. This was not some outlier start-up entrepreneur looking to provoke. 

Yes, Mr. Nadella backtracked as quickly as the backlash began, but it would be wise for every woman to take Mr. Nadella at his original word. The fact is, whether an explicit strategy or implicit assumption, management preys on women’s propensity to not negotiate, to be consummate team players, to be passive.

One telling academic study reported that women equate a salary negotiation on par with the uncomfortable-and sometimes painful-experience of a trip to the dentist. In the same study men viewed salary negotiation as a game to be won. Okay, so it’s not typically in our DNA. That just means having to make a conscious effort to override what does not come naturally. 

To suggest that good karma is all women need only fuels this this dangerous mindset. It plays into what I see so women hope to be true: that their good nature, get-along, consensus-building nature will be rewarded without asking. That’s naïve. We’re still dealing with a gender pay gap across diverse professions that often has women working at a discount of 20%-30% less than what their male colleagues earn.

So much for karma as a negotiating tool.

Karma Is Not A Negotiating Tool

Mr. Nadella has since communicated to Microsoft employees that he got it wrong. His advice: “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.” In a vacuum that advice is fine. Rather than wait for karma to get your manager to acknowledge your contributions and value, be proactive. The problem in all too many offices is that being your own best advocate often gets women labeled as agitators or pushy. Or, yes, bossy.

And then there’s the art of asking; something women also tend to struggle with. “Can I have a raise?” or “I deserve a raise” or “I am overdue for a raise,” is not the way to go. Where’s the power in that? Ask for a meeting to discuss your compensation; get it on the schedule. This is not some “oh by the way” item you mention at the end of a meeting. In advance of the meeting prepare a one-page list of what you have accomplished. Be as specific as possible. Run through the deliverables you nailed and goals you met (and exceeded.) Then in the meeting you do no ask for a raise. You state your case: “I deserve a raise of at least X.” The phrase “at least” is crucial. You have just set expectations and your floor. You are negotiating from a position of confidence and power. That is going to pay off.

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