Please, sir - can I have some more?

Asking for a pay rise is a good way to brush up on your negotiation skills, says Meg Carter. You never know, you might even get what you want...
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Charles Dickens has a lot to answer for. When Oliver Twist asked for more, he was shouted down by an apoplectic Mr Bumble. Small wonder, then, that so many of us find it hard to ask for more pay. Fear of our boss's response can make even the most articulate person clumsy and tongue- tied.

Asking for more, however, is a skill which should be learned. While many employees are bound to an annual pay review, there are often opportunities for a merit rise or salary renegotiation when your job changes. Meanwhile, performance-related pay is on the increase, research published last month by the Institute of Personnel Development shows. Forty three per cent of companies questioned operate at least one form of performance-related pay or bonuses scheme, and 59 per cent of these introduced it during the past five years. Fewer than one in 10 intend to discontinue such schemes in the next two years.

Learning how - and, just as importantly, when - to ask for more - as well as negotiating the best deal - is therefore an important part of working life. Yet very few people are good at it and even fewer give it a try, says Graham Yemm who runs negotiating and assertiveness training for the Institute of Personnel Development. "Once they're in a company, they assume they are on that company's salary scale and that's it," he explains. "They are also often scared that, if they ask for more, they will be seen as troublesome. It's a fear of being turned down and the perceived knock-on consequences, which are often only in the mind."

Identifying potential allies in the workplace is a useful preparation - people who can verify the significance of your contribution or even put in a good word for you. Analyse your communication skills - will your request come across as well thought-out and well argued, or aggressive or even whingeing? Get the tone right by being objective - how would another person describe your contribution?

When it comes to raising the issue, pick your time carefully - preferably not when your company has just reported a large financial loss, or your boss has a deadline to hit. Consider when might be the best point in your company or department's budget cycle. Then book a time in your boss's diary. Think carefully about whether to tell him or her what you want to discuss in advance - you could use the element of surprise in your favour. Alternatively, forewarning them means you can get to the point. People should also consider carefully exactly what they want and why, Mr Yemm warns. "Don't just ask for an extra pounds 2,000. Make out a case for yourself. Explain why you think you deserve more money. Cite recent achievements at work, and where appropriate quote tangible benefits you have made."

Consider alternatives, adds Katrina Rostrup of BNB Graduate Recruitment. "The last thing many companies want is to create a knock-on effect by putting someone on to a larger salary which can make others resentful."

This is a particular concern amongst recruiters eager to attract the best graduates - and one reason why a growing number of businesses are offering packages which include reduced-rate loans to help recruits repay student loans. "It may not be possible for an employer to be seen to be paying you more at a particular time. But maybe they can give you extra holiday, training, a lump sum into your pension or an extra childcare payment," Mr Yemm suggests.

Many, however, stumble by letting their emotions get the upper hand. Money is related to worth - your pay is not only a reflection of market rates but also your value within an organisation. Feeling under-valued hurts. That's when negotiating can get personal, but try to remain objective. "Argue logically, not emotionally," Mr Yemm advises. "Plan your argument, and stick to it. Don't ever plead personal circumstances."

A frequent negotiating ploy is for the other party to ask you to name your price. The danger here is that you give them a figure below what they would have paid. However, do have a figure in mind. "Freelancers and the self-employed have a clearer idea than many PAYE employees of their market worth," he admits. "Bearing in mind most companies want to pay as little extra as they can, work out what you think you are worth and add on 10 per cent, on the basis that they will knock you down."

Finally, don't threaten to leave unless you really want to - you never know, they might just call your bluff. Do say thank-you - this will certainly be remembered next time round. And above all, keep practising: effective negotiating is a skill that can get rusty with lack of use.