By Payam Pakmanesh November 6, 2017

How Soft Skills Can Get You a Raise in Just 6 Weeks (with Word-For-Word Scripts)

Let’s say it’s 10:30 on a Tuesday morning. The sun’s been up for almost two hours and you haven’t even had coffee yet. You barely slept last night, but you are back at work, yet again, feeling like you are underpaid.

On a technical level you are flawless, but you know you deserve more. You do great work, your peers respect you, and simply put, you get the job done.

But when it comes to trying to get a raise, most people don’t think about improving their soft skills — they only think to improve their technical skills.

It’s true, technical skills are important, but in today’s society, soft skills (communication, friendly personality, adaptability, empathy, social skills, etc.) are more valued than ever before. Thanks to technology advances, people are more interested in the virtual world and less engaged with the real world.

As a consequence, their soft skills start to diminish.

Which means you have an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack, secure your career, and cash in — literally.

A study by iCIMS found that 94 percent of recruiting professionals say employees with stronger soft skills have a better chance of being promoted.

John Sonmez himself agrees that dealing with people is one of the top four most important skills you can learn.

And as the world becomes glued to technology, managing employees, leading projects, and adapting to people will become increasingly important.

But how do you ask your manager for a raise just for having good soft skills?

You can’t just forcefully buy them a beer, sit them down, and talk about yourself. Especially if they don’t want to get a beer with you in the first place.

One way you can prove that you have good soft skills is by engaging the people around you in small talk.

Announcing, The Small Talk Gambit technique

A gambit is an opening move in chess where a player makes an unusual move, a sacrifice, in order to gain a better position on the board.

Your sacrifice to getting a raise is showing your manager that you can make more small talk with the people around you.

Small talk is defined as, “Polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.”

In other words, small talk is the combination of a few particular soft skills: communication, friendly personality, and empathy (sometimes beer, too).

Here’s an example:

Brendan: Albert, what’s up?

Albert: Nothing. How was your weekend?

Brendan: Awesome! Jennifer and I had a blast hiking. What are you doing after work?

Albert: No plans. Want to get a beer?

Brendan: I’m down! That place down the street?

Albert: Let’s do it.

But, to get good at small talk, you will have to make it a habit.

Science tells us that it takes three weeks for a new habit to form, so you’ll need to practice.

Even if you find small talk meaningless or it doesn’t feel natural in conversations, if you keep practicing, in three weeks your new habit can become a real thing.

But even once it becomes a habit, small talk can only be measured when you put it into action. In order for this gambit to work, other people have to notice that you have this particular skill.

The goal is to become “good enough” to disrupt your current routine. Notice I said good enough. You don’t have to be an expert or Rico Suave, you just have to be better than average.

Now, small talk may be something you aren’t used to. You may prefer to wear noise-cancelling headphones or not talk to people at lunch or in group environments, but if you’re going to make this gambit work, you have to practice your small talk ability. You have to get good at it, and you have to been seen being good at it.

How you are perceived will become the new reality, because really, perception is reality.

In order for you to achieve this identity, I recommend that you plan for six weeks.

If it helps, go to your calendar and mark when that last day is six weeks from now and work hard and creating this new persona. Whenever we create a goal for ourselves, it’s always easier to reach it when we can see how long we have to wait.

Here’s how The Small Talk Gambit works.

Step 1: Create your new perception

To maximize your chances of getting a raise, you need to get out of your comfort zone. You need to put your relationships at work above everything you do for the next six weeks.

If approaching people is entirely new to you, you may feel different and awkward at times. “Talk to people during lunch about things I’m not familiar with? That sounds draining.”

I get it, but you just have to go out there and try.

Let’s start with making sure you are doing all of the following:

  • Be ultra friendly to everyone you see when you go into work and when you leave. Your first and last impression should always be phenomenal.
  • No more headphones while you are working — this will make you more approachable.
  • Put your phone and laptop away in meetings, at lunch, and other social activities.
  • If you use chat to communicate with people in the office (i.e. Slack, HipChat, Flowdock, etc.), you cut that down by 50 percent and start having conversations face to face. Yes, like before the internet existed.
  • Around the break room, socialize with other people about what they are doing after work, on the weekend, or ask about their dogs, lunch plans, etc.
  • When people come and talk to you while you are busy, absolutely drop whatever you are doing and make time for them.
  • Smile at everyone.
  • Make sure you are on great terms with you manager. If you aren’t, fix that right now. Not sure how? Here’s an easy template you can use:

“Hi [insert manager’s name], I know when I did [insert where you messed up], it made you feel [insert how it made them feel]. I imagine it probably wasn’t easy to deal with because of [insert how it would have made you felt if you were them]. Sorry about that, I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Super simple and it shows that you are mature enough to own up to your mistake, are a team player, can demonstrate empathy, and can handle a difficult conversation with ease.

You can even practice many of these in low-risk social situations first, before you do them at work.

Practicing small talk will probably create a ton of new feelings for you and that’s expected so don’t worry about it. Some things to watch out for are:

  • Taking things other people say too personally
  • Over-analyzing people’s reactions
  • Assuming people will always communicate the same way you do

Some days you may feel like you are on fire and are clicking with everyone. Other days you may feel ice cold.

This stuff still happens to me from time to time and it is normal. Just don’t let it hold you back from getting out of your comfort zone, and remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Once you’ve completed this first step, which helps you reset your perceived perception in the workplace, it’s time for empathy.

Step 2: Penetrate the mind of your manager

When you eventually meet with your manager, don’t jump into the discussion about getting a raise or talking about your needs right away, which is a common mistake.

Every word you say should be about your manager and the company you work for. The two most important questions on your manager’s mind are:

How are you are going to make me look good?

How you are going to make the company do good?

That. Is. It.

To help you understand where your manager is coming from, do a little bit of empathy research prep here by visualizing the day to day things your manager does.

  • What does he/she do?
  • How can you make their job less stressful for them?
  • If you were them, what would you want?

The answers to these questions are vital because they will help you figure out what your manager needs, and let’s you find a way to give that to them.

Step 3: Show you want to improve

After the six weeks have elapsed, schedule an appointment to meet with your manager. It’s time to ask for the raise.

You want to let them know in advance that you want to speak with them. Don’t just walk up behind them and blabber about what you want.

Over chat, email, or in person let them know:

“Hey [insert their name], hope all is well. What is your schedule looking like this week? I would like to meet with you to discuss a couple of things about improving my performance and excelling at work.”

Your manager at this point will be thinking, “Hold on. You want to do better? Let’s meet ASAP.”

Managers eat this stuff up like I ate Lucky Charms when I was a kid.

soft skills raise

Your manager’s face after you tell them you want to improve.

Your manager’s face after you tell them you want to improve.

In other words, THEY LOVE IT! It's not common for employees to ask for tips on how to improve, so you'll set yourself apart when you do.

Moral: they will happily speak with you.

Step 4: Sell yourself

You should know the salary range you deserve for your position before you go into the meeting. If you don’t, do some research to find what the market is currently paying based on your role and where you live. Here are a couple links to get you started:

Once you find what the current market is paying for your position, your goal is to get to the top of that range. Make sure you print out both ranges from both sources and put them in a folder.

Begin your meeting by saying:

“I’m really happy to talk to you. First off, I want to say that I love working at [insert your company] and I’m glad I have a good relationship with my manager. This is important to me and I value that.”

These words immediately ease any tension your manager may have since they are not sure what the meeting is about just yet.

Then continue, “Now based on my research, I know the market salary range for my position is [insert range]. Based on my technical skills, COMMUNICATION SKILLS, and CULTURAL IMPACT, I believe that I should be at the top of that range.”

::: hand over the salary comparisons you printed :::

Stop talking and wait.

Most soft skills boils down to working with people. Saying “cultural impact” is a lot more concise than listing all of the individual traits involved with teamwork and communication.

In addition, handing them the salary comps shows that you are serious and motivated, as well as having done your homework. You’ll instantly be taken more seriously.

Step 5: Paint the dream

Listen to what your manager has to say.

IF THEY AGREE: That’s great! You are done and you can buy me a drink. (I like a good sazerac.)

IF THEY DECLINE: You will now pivot the strategy to emphasize what you will do for them and the company.

Again, their needs, not yours. Remember, no one cares about you, that’s just the reality.

You want to paint the dream by showing your manager what their new world could look like.

Let me give you an example:

A 21 year old guy arrives at the car dealership you own and wants to buy a car. He wants to spend 15k for a Acura, but you want to upsell him a pricier BMW around 25k because you get a better commission. Now, you could tell him all the cooler features, horsepower, etc., of this better car, but this would be a costly mistake because we aren’t sure if he even cares about that.

The attributes are great, but unless he’s a car enthusiast, he’s not interested.

So you tell him this instead: “Imagine next Friday night. You and your friends want to hit the city. You pull up to the club in your brand new black BMW and EVERYONE in line is looking at you.

You walk towards the entrance and the bouncer says, ‘Right this way.’ He brings you to the front of the line, tells everyone else to wait and gets you in within seconds without you having to say a single word.

Girls are staring like you just walked on water. You FEEL like you just did.”

Any 21 year old guy that heard this would be smiling non-stop. Why?

Because we know what any 21 year old guy wants. THEY WANT THE GIRLS.

When you know what they want and help them visualize it in vivid detail, then you executed it perfectly.

When you paint the dream for your manager, think about what they need and want and then paint a picture that shows how your raise can help make that happen. If you were your manager, what would make their life easier? Explain it to them by showing them how your soft skills can help them to achieve that dream.

Here are some simple dream examples:

  • I can help train the new junior engineer (this frees up their time)
  • I can lead the new project on such and such (this frees up their need to look for someone)
  • I can help with the employee that’s tough to deal with (this takes that hassle off their plate)

So you could say something like: “I understand [reword whatever they just said about why they initially declined your raise]; however, good communication skills are rare these days and I’m great at speaking with others. Everyone likes me here and I get along with everyone. Not only am I able to do what’s necessary for this position, but I am impacting the culture. In addition, this will [INSERT WHAT IT WILL DO FOR YOUR MANAGER].”  

See what I mean?

Step 6: Domino effect

If they still decline your request, your next step is to offer another example of how your new small talk skill is making a positive change on your company by rippling through the workforce.

Remember again, you are talking about what you are doing for the company and its needs. Impacting culture benefits everyone and your manager knows this.

When someone comes up to you and asks you genuinely about your life, you feel good, right?

When you feel good, do you do better at work? Yup, you bet. So you need to connect how your actions are having a domino effect from one person to the next – you make one person feel good, and in turn they pass that on to someone else on their team, who passes it on. Remind them how the power of small talk affects the whole company positively.

“The reality is that I’m providing a free service and every other person I work with is obtaining the benefits. If I’m impacting culture, I’m changing the mood of another employee. And if that employee, who’s now in a good mood, has a conversation with someone else, they more than likely will pass on their good-mood energy. It’s a cycle that continues. A domino effect, which was started by me.“

Wait and let them speak again.

Comebacks to Common Objections

I can’t list every possible reason that your manager may decline your request at this point, but based on my experience, these are the top three and how to get around them:

Manager: We don’t have the budget.

You: “I understand, but to be fair, that’s not my problem. It’s the company's responsibility to find the budget for me and make sure I'm fairly compensated.”

Manager: What you are getting paid is standard.

You: “Correct. That is the standard pay for the standard employee, but nothing of what I'm doing is standard. I agree with you about the rate that a standard employee should be paid, but someone who is going above and beyond expectations should be paid appropriately.”

Manager: Your job is based more on technical ability than soft skills.

You: “Where does it state that? This may have been true a decade ago, but research is showing that recruiters themselves value soft skills higher than technical skills. I could be wrong, but my job is to do [insert your job] which I am doing, but I’m also SHAPING THE CULTURE at [insert company name]. Surely we are a company that values great culture, right?”

There’s a principle in persuasion called consistency. In a nutshell, people strive to be consistent in all areas of their life. Once a person makes a decision about something or takes a stand, they feel pressure to keep their word.

For example, if I say I’m going to the gym tomorrow morning, I feel obligated to go, because it’s consistent with what I said.

The idea is to start with a small easy request and get them to agree, with the hope to get a larger request granted later.

When you frame the sentence in the last comeback by saying, “Surely we are a company that values great culture, right?” every manager will agree to that. This gets them to say yes.

Which means that they have to be consistent with what they have said and that means you shaping the culture through your soft skills is valued.

They Still Said No

If your manager’s final answer is no, then this is your opportunity to get some measurable goals from your manager to revisit this conversation in the future.

Tell them, “Look, I'd like to be an amazing performer, I've already done [insert what you have done at your job] and have been recognized for my good culture fit, but I want to boost my career. What would make me a top performer and what would it take to get a compensation adjustment within the next [insert number of months you are willing to wait] months?”

At the very least, this conversation will help you get a clear list of benchmarks to hit from your manager’s perspective.

Hit those and you will be on your way to getting that raise sooner than you think.

Be Relatable

Developing your soft skills through small talk will help you ask your manager for a raise.

Or maybe you’ll even be able to land yourself a new job, if that’s what you’re looking for — and you don’t even have to have experience in the industry. In any case, using small talk makes you relatable and helps you connect with people.

When I started working in tech, I didn’t have a computer science degree. I wasn’t sure how to write a basic algorithm. But, what I did have was the ability to relate to others. I had a certain set of particular skills I acquired through other jobs and experiences.

soft skills raise

I remember going into an interview in San Francisco not nearly as experienced as others, very new to this profession, and not as young as other candidates.

There was every reason not to hire me. Which meant I had to show that I was unique.

Before the interview I researched the founders and found out they liked tennis. So I prepped some tennis-related small talk about two of the best tennis players ever. On the day of the interview, I wore my ocean-blue pants, freshly ironed bright-white button up shirt, and walked in with confidence, even though technically, I was a noob.

And when the interview started, I did something I’d never done before: right off the bat, I said, “Wait wait wait…before we even get started, I have an important question. If you had to pick between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi as the best tennis player in the world who would pick and why?”

She sat there staring at me like a deer in the middle of the road, then started laughing.

I definitely surprised her with the question, but she answered and we talked tennis.

Instantly, I separated myself from all the other candidates. Most people would never take that chance, but that’s exactly my point. I had to take a risk and so do you with The Small Talk Gambit. Sure it showed I did my research, but more importantly, I connected with her.

She later told me that part of the reason I got the job was because I took the time to learn about them (empathy), I was easy to talk to (communication) and I was relatable (friendly personality). That’s small talk ladies and gentlemen.

It helps you figure out what your manager needs, helps you be a better employee, and best of all, helps you get a raise.

She thought to herself, “He’s cool to be around. I could get a beer with him.” Because at the end of the day, this entire article can be summarized with one sentence.

Be the person they want to get a beer with.

That is The Small Talk Gambit.

About the author

    Payam Pakmanesh

    Payam writes about soft skills, psychology, and taking risks. He's been in tech for half a decade and has spent the last four years as a software engineer. Payam is originally from San Francisco, but has been bicoastal between San Francisco and New York for the last two years. In his free time he enjoys editing videos, playing soccer, and traveling. You can learn more about him on his blog, where you can download his free guide, 3 Unusual Hacks to Dramatically Be More Comfortable in Any Social Situation or follow him on Twitter @payampakmanesh.