How Should I Respond When My Coworker Asks How Much I Make?

It’s common to feel like you are underpaid, but asking about salary at work is sure to make people uncomfortable.

How Should I Respond When My Coworker Asks How Much I Make?
[Photo: Flickr user Zach Copley]

While some companies have adopted a totally transparent salary structure, talking about money in the office is still extremely uncomfortable for many people.


This week, leadership coach Lolly Daskal helps a reader come up with a graceful way to address the sensitive issue of salary with a prying coworker.


A coworker asked me today, “How much do you make?” It was totally out of the blue, and I feel like it was really inappropriate, and simply not his business. I was caught off guard. I’ve always been told not to talk about money, especially my salary. How do I handle this in the future?

I can imagine that it did make you uncomfortable when you were asked how much you earn. You’re right that most people would consider it an inappropriate question, and most of the time divulging the answer has the potential to create problems and bad feelings.

Any discussion of salaries, your own or other people’s, may create a platform for jealousy. People often seem to be over- or underpaid for all kinds of reasons, and especially without knowing the complete context, it’s easy for trouble to result from comparisons. Here’s how to handle this in the future.

Be Cordial. Even if you’re refusing to answer a question, however uncomfortable the conversation may become, remember to remain polite and cordial. Keeping your side well-mannered and courteous can help to defuse some of the awkwardness of the situation, and it helps demonstrate that you’re not acting out of pettiness or some other base motive.

Be Inquisitive. As Miss Manners often recommends, a good response to any intrusive question is to turn it around by replying, “Why do you ask?” Then if the questioner is interested in getting a raise, for example, you can point them toward online resources to assess salary averages in their field.

Be Firm. Remember, just because someone asks a question does not mean you have to answer it. If it makes you uncomfortable, be polite but firm in not answering.


The Exception. If you have reason to believe that everyone at your company or in your department is underpaid, or that salaries are influenced by discriminatory practices, you and your coworkers may want to share information in preparation for collective action.

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About the author

Lolly Daskal is a Leadership Development and CEO coach and consultant and founder of Lead From Within. Follow @LollyDaskal.