How Mike Tyson Helped Me Get a $20,000 Pay Rise

You wouldn’t think throwing and dodging fists for world heavyweight titles would translate to exceptional negotiation skills. I mean, this is the same guy that has put these pearls of wisdom out into the world:

“I don’t understand why people would want to get rid of pigeons. They don’t bother no one.”

“I just want to conquer people and their souls.”

Then again, you’re not here to read a bunch of Mike Tyson quotes, no matter how entertaining they may be. So, what is the one piece of advice that transformed my negotiation strategy?

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

Tyson’s life was full of twists and turns, but he seemed to always manage to come out on top. You don’t become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world without planning for the punches.

In my first 3 years in the professional workforce, I hadn’t prepared. I was barely averaging a 3% raise. Anytime I brought up the idea of getting a bigger raise, I would tap out at the first hint of rejection. Even though I consider myself a confident person who can talk to anyone, as soon as I got into the office to talk about this, I would shut down. All of my insecurities would bubble up to the surface and it froze me.

After failing a few times, I felt more and more disappointed and demotivated. I started to doubt everything.

“Am I in the right career?”

“Shouldn’t I just feel lucky to have a job?”

“They would give me a raise if I deserved it…right?”

I learned the hard way that a company is not going to give you a raise just because you work hard, you have to fight for it. And in that fight, I needed to have a plan that anticipated the punches my boss would throw.

I didn’t want to feel embarrassed leaving my boss’s office anymore after getting shut down for what I knew I deserved.

So I started training.

I went out and devoured any article or book that would help me roll with the punches. I put together a gameplan and prepared myself for anything that could come my way. I was confident that I could counter any argument. With this preparation in place, I was able to negotiate a $20,000 raise in one sitting.

It was the best feeling I’ve had in my professional career. Not only did I succeed in the negotiation, that money changed my life. I could do things now that I couldn’t even think about before. I couldn’t believe that I had this inside of me the entire time.

Now it’s your turn to get in the ring. It is time to learn exactly how to counter your employer’s punches during a salary negotiation and get that massive raise.

1) “There’s no room in the budget this year…”

This is the most popular way employers try to stop you in your tracks when you’re attempting to negotiate. There are some companies out there that have more rigid pay structures and an annual budget for increases in salary. Others just use it as an excuse to not have to deal with the compensation discussion. As a manager in a company that has a rigid pay structure and annual budget, I’ll be the first to tell you that top performers find a way to block this jab.  

The best way to shift the conversation from this initial negative answer is to focus on your value. Take a look at this dialogue for how to shift the focus back to what you bring to the table:

“I understand, I know that you have to contend with the budget and have a lot of things to consider. I also understand that for many employees that are just meeting expectations or are average performers that the budget would be fixed. But as a top performer, and due to the above average contribution that I am making for the success of the company, I want to make sure I’m fairly compensated.”

There are two important points to take from that script. The first is that you’re showing empathy for the situation your boss is in. It is critical that you don’t put your boss on the defensive. The second point is that you are separating yourself from the other average performers in the organization; you bring more value and therefore deserve to be paid for it.

2) “In this economy, the company is not doing as well as we expected…”

There will always be fluctuations in the economy or how the company does year to year. Regardless, if you’re a top performer this isn’t an excuse. It comes right back to the value that you bring. This is where preparation is most important. Go to websites like and and gather data on what the market rate for your position is. The second step is to prepare a document that shows how well you are executing your job’s responsibilities, as well as the areas in which you are going above and beyond… Then you are prepared to use this script:

“I put together this document for you. In the first part, you will see how I’ve excelled in my general responsibilities. In the second part, you can see the extraordinary contributions I’ve made that are outside of those responsibilities. I’ve been doing some research on salary in my position, and the range is 50k-75k. Based on my performance and the exceptional contributions that I’ve made, I am doing the work of someone that is at 70k, and that is where I’d love to be.”

Once again you’ve shifted the focus to your value. You’ve also shown your boss that you came to play, which will make the request much harder to deny on the spot. This takes the conversation away from company performance and is focused on you and what you bring to the company. They don’t want to lose a top performer to another company, and this type of preparation will make sure they take your request seriously.

Do I sound like a broken record yet? Good! Value, value, value. That is the driver of the conversation.

3) “Right now is not a good time, but maybe next year…”

Being a manager most of my career, and going through these uncomfortable conversations on the other side, I can attest to how easy it would be to just put it off.

Let’s talk in 6 months.

“Next year we can dig into that once you do this, this and this.”

It is a way avoid the situation at hand and pass the buck to their future selves, Believe me, it will happen!

So let’s say you find yourself in this very situation. If you have followed the scripts above and your preparation is where it should be, the response is probably due to a unmovable constraint or they’re just really stubborn. The good news is that you can still salvage the situation.

“I understand the constraints you’re dealing with, and I am still extremely excited to be working for and contributing to this company. How about this, if I do an extraordinary job in the next three months, can we revisit this conversation and talk about a compensation adjustment at that time?”

An important part of this script is that you show your commitment to the company. That will put the boss at ease and open them to the idea of your proposal, knowing you’re there to stay.

Then you need to make sure you ask and define what it means to do an ‘extraordinary job’ together with your boss. You can do this in a few different ways:

“If I could hit a home run for you, how would you define that?”

“How do I make you look like a star?”

“For you to tell me I’ve done an extraordinary job, what does that look like for you?”

Then, when you’ve understood what these expectations are, you can blow them out of the water so your discussion in three months is a surefire success. No matter what, that dialogue will set you up for promotions, raises and give you the leverage you need for any future negotiations.

Now you can tape up, put the boxing gloves on and go toe-to-toe with anyone! It comes down to being prepared for anything that may come your way and this not only works in negotiations but in everything we do in life.

Oh yeah, one more piece of advice: Whatever you do, don’t punch your boss.

Author: Sam Bernal is the founder of Level Up and Launch, where he empowers professionals with the strategies and confidence they need to negotiate and start earning the salary they deserve.

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