A collaboration between Chicago Booth Review and Chicago Booth’s Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership, Business Practice is a quarterly series designed to help professionals better deal with challenging conversations. Every quarter we post a hypothetical but not uncommon professional conundrum and ask you for your input on how to handle it. Once you've submitted an answer, you can read and rate other readers' answers; when we close the survey, we post an analysis of the answers we received and send each participant an email letting them know what others thought about their solution. By participating in Business Practice, you not only get the chance to rehearse for challenging encounters related to office politics, career strategy, and other topics, you also receive crowdsourced feedback to help improve your performance when it counts.
Treating a case of salary envy
The scenario: Your coworker Robert is a great guy and a very good analyst—you’ve known him since you started together at McFarland Media several years ago. He recently made a casual reference to his salary, and to your dismay it’s 20 percent higher than yours. He’s good, but as far as you're aware, his career path has more or less mirrored your own. You started at the same time, in the same role, and neither of you has received a formal promotion since.
This revelation is eating at you, so you’ve tried to divine some reasoning for it by comparing your performance to what you can observe of Robert's. But on any measure you can think of, your performance isn’t notably different. In fact, your manager recently gave you some encouraging feedback on your work. At wit’s end, you’ve requested a special one-on-one with her this afternoon. But what do you say? Write a script.
Witnessing a microaggression
The scenario: You work as a product manager at OmniTech. Once a quarter, the product managers for the different technology teams meet together to set goals, problem-solve, and coordinate their work moving forward.
OmniTech is a fairly flat organization. However, Ryan Miller, the most senior product manager, ends up being a de facto leader because his opinion generally carries the most weight. Greg Brooks, the manager who has been at OmniTech second longest, runs the meetings. In addition to you, Ryan, and Greg, there are six other team leaders: Michael, Steve, Yong, Becky, Ishaan, and David.
As Greg is getting ready to start the meeting, he turns to Becky and asks, “Will you take notes during the meeting and then send them to everyone afterwards? I know you did it last time, but you’re good at this sort of thing. Most of the team leaders are better at focusing on the big-picture issues.”
Greg’s question was not directed to you, but you may nevertheless want to respond in some way—either in the moment or later. Would you respond to this event? If so, who would you approach, when, and what would you say?
Delivering difficult feedback
The scenario: You manage a team of analysts at Trend Line, a market-research firm. Their role is to collect data on the restaurant industry and compile it in written reports. The reports are recognized as among the best in the business, in part because they are easy to read. Because of this, you value your analysts as writers as much as researchers.
You hired Stephanie as an analyst about six months ago, and several of her assignments have come due. She has mentioned that it was a joy to write the reports and that she is excited to get feedback from you. But there’s a problem: her prose is awful, almost unreadable. It has problems that go way beyond the stray typo.
This morning, she came by your office and asked how you liked the reports. You hardly knew what to say, so you asked her to come back in the afternoon to talk. She smiled, said yes, and bounced out the door.
What do you say to her when you meet?
Friction with a colleague
The scenario: Recently you joined a small software company in an engineering role. At your first all-staff meeting, Tom, a business-development associate, shares feedback from the company’s largest client, as well as an idea for a product enhancement based on the client’s needs. You ask several questions (you’re still learning the ropes) about how the enhancement might work, whether other customers have similar needs, and what the impact of the enhancement would be on other features of the software.
Afterward, Tom emails you: “What were you trying to do out there? I don’t know how it worked at your last job, but here you don’t make friends by wrecking other people’s presentations in front of senior staff. I’ll stop by your office after my next meeting to discuss.” You are caught off guard. How do you respond to Tom when he arrives?
Negotiating a new salary
The scenario: In your current job at LexCorp, you make $105,000—relatively low for your role and industry. You feel underappreciated and have started to look for other opportunities. After weeks of interviews, Wayne Enterprises has made an offer. All that’s left is to negotiate your salary.
You’ve done your research and have concluded that Wayne pays people of your experience and skills a wide range—between $115,000 and $160,000. Wayne is a better company than Lex, and anything in this range is more than you make now. You’d take any offer, but you obviously prefer to get the highest salary you can.
You set up a call with the HR director and make the requisite small talk for a few minutes. Then you bring up salary without saying anything specific. The HR director replies: “So, how much are you making at Lex now?” How do you respond?