Can I Use My Coworker's Salary to Negotiate a Higher Salary for Myself?

Real Simple asked a panel of experts to offer their two cents.

  • Ingela Ratledge

Q. My coworker confidentially told me her salary. May I use this information to try to convince my boss that I’m underpaid?

“Your coworker trusted you, and going to your boss would be a breach of confidence. I would suggest that you leave your colleague out of the conversation altogether. Instead, go online and research salaries for similar positions in the industry, then reference those when talking to your manager about a raise.”

Diane L. Swanson, Ph.D.

The founding chair of the Business Ethics Education Initiative and a professor of management at Kansas State University, in Manhattan, Kansas.

“Not before you talk to your friend. Tell her, ‘I was surprised to hear there’s such a difference in what we make. Learning about your salary made me wonder whether I should ask for a raise. I’m considering approaching our supervisor, and I want to respect you in this process. Would you feel comfortable with my asking that my salary be brought up to what others here are making? I won’t use your name.’ Assuming she agrees, you can discuss how to ensure that the conversation doesn’t come back to hurt her.”


Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.

A licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., and the author of The Friendship Fix ($16, amazon.com).

“It’s the wrong way to go about a salary negotiation. If you approach your boss and cite knowledge of your colleagues’ pay, she will probably feel put on the spot—and that awkwardness could sour your relationship with her. Plus, there’s no exact salary for a job. The information your coworker gave you simply provides insight into the range for your position. If you think you deserve a raise, make a case based on your performance, not on what someone else is making.”

John A. Challenger

The CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an executive-outplacement consulting firm based in Chicago.