The danger of paying salaries based on your own emotional state

My emotions show that “X doesn’t deserve more pay”

me earlier today

The request

A colleague approached me about a salary increase a couple of weeks back.

She is a key colleague for me, someone who has a lot of responsibilities in my company. Someone who really matters, her leaving could disrupt my operation significantly – and also set me back.

She does not want to leave, but she wants to be compensated appropriately, in tune with her responsibilities.

She approached me with the words that she has heard about a different position, which pays just a little bit less, but has significantly less responsibility.

I reacted by pushing back, “OK – you have to know what you want. If you want less responsibility and stress, take this position. Just let me know when you want to leave.” She said that she didn’t want to leave.

She ended up being annoyed by the conversation and me pushing back, and stormed off.

I then processed my emotions, apologized to her, had another conversation and discussed a possible salary increase with her.

Later, though, I found myself resenting the salary increase to her – and reacting with pain when I was reminded of this upcoming salary increase.

Today, another one of these resentment reactions happened (when I was reminded about how I’m paying for a monthly gas voucher for her and another colleague). Of course, I went to the emotional processing tool, and ended up writing, as one of the beliefs:

My emotions show that “X doesn’t deserve more pay”

Basically – I was making my resentment mean, that she is asking for more salary than is appropriate. And using my strong emotional reaction as a justification for resisting the salary increase. Maybe you also recognize this pattern – of using emotions as a gauge … basically reducing this to a formula: if I’m in pain, something is wrong with the world outside. Whether the colleague is asking for more (too much?) money, whether someone is not performing correctly in the position …

The danger in using (unprocessed) emotions to make decisions

As Thais Gibson teaches, emotions are caused by:

  1. unmet needs
  2. painful stories we tell ourselves

Often, emotions ARE caused by painful stories.

Today, I was able to uncover the possible reason of this strong emotional reaction to the situation.

It is in my past!

Previously to this colleague, I had, in another city, another very capable and driven colleague – she also used to be my “right hand”. This woman had pushed for more salary, which I had obliged. But this did not keep her from leaving – she eventually left, to join her boyfriend in his company. Saying that she did not see any growth potential in my company – which was true at that stage, I was not able to grow the company fast enough back then to offer growth potential to ambitious people like her.

A is not A

Humans learn very quickly – we have to. Whenever I write a word, like “word”, it usually means the same thing. A is A in our brains – very much so. But believing that situation X is the same as situation Y, that a human person is very similar to another person, and will act in just the same way is dangerous.

If we gloss over very important details, like actual job satisfaction of the two women, we might end up acting in ways which are not beneficial, and reacting irrationally. Of course, we are just reacting to our own stories / beliefs which we picked up in the past.

But … how do you come up with these things?

There is a powerful additional technique which you can use together with the emotional processing tool.

I recommend to use it, when you process your emotions, but find that the same topic, the same pain comes up again and again.

This pain coming up again is not necessarily proof, that your assumptions, “your story” are correct. There is a deeper level you can go to.

The technique is: Write down the story. Then ask “Why is that bad?”, or “What do I make this mean about myself?”

Write down the answer to this, then go another level (like in Inception) – ask again, “Why is that bad?”

In this particular scenario, I went like this (shortened):

Meaning: My emotions show that “X doesn’t deserve more pay”

Why is that bad?

  • Her salary is increasing, but not the output

Why is that bad?

  • Because I’m giving away part of the company’s income without getting something in return
  • Because I will not be able to satisfy her, and she will also leave like my other employee M., previously. Salary increases do not solve the dissatisfaction problem.

Why is that bad?

  • Because I will lose a good employee, and will again have lots of stress.

And I finally understood, why this emotional response keeps coming up in connection with this particular employee!

Self-defeating behaviors

This whole situation also shows how self-defeating behaviors work:

In order to reduce anticipated stress, I am (paradoxically!) behaving in a way which is more likely to increase the stress!

What I really want (subconsciously) in this situation is not to lose this particular colleague, because she is doing a good job.

Because I have been “taught” that salary increases will not solve the problem of losing by another employee in the past, I resist the salary increase – which communicates to her that I’m greedy, and not willing to compensate her appropriately. Which of course increases the risk, that she will want to leave my company.

Interestingly enough, this was very specific to her – I did not have the same levels of resentment / emotional challenges concerning the salary increase with other employees. These other employees are male, and also not in the same key position as she is in.


If you find yourself reacting with strong emotions to something, and basic processing does not help, it is very valuable to explore the root of this.

The root is found in past experiences, which taught you certain things, you absorbed certain beliefs. Certain beliefs which may be wrong, inaccurate – as the world is noisy, unpredictable, and “bad things happen to good people”. Don’t let these bad things of the past bring in more bad things in the future.

Coaching services for C-level executives

Running a company is a challenging and stressful task. Properly handling your own emotions, being able to understand their message and what to do about it will help you to make this task smoother. You will be able to retain key employees for longer, and will have an easier time making tough, but necessary decisions. As a fellow business owner, and operator I can relate to the stressful situations you are facing – and can help to bring more clarity, peace and valuable insights into your professional life. Contact me for a first free session.

Photo by Andreea Avramescu on Unsplash

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