Why Don’t You Ask? How to Negotiate for What You Want and Deserve
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Many of us, especially women, often settle for less than we should in our careers because we simply don’t ask for what we want and deserve. However, the ability to effectively negotiate for yourself is a critical self-advocacy skill that can advance your career and benefit your relationships with others too.
When I was a teenager, I was offered a job to care for my neighbor’s three (unruly) children for the entire summer. The job required me to work 10 hours every day in their home, including cooking their meals and even cleaning their house. I recall being surprised the job only paid $5/day because, even back then, this was a mere pittance.
Yet, I accepted these terms without question. However, I quickly realized I had greatly undersold myself. (Did I mention the 3 unruly kids?) While it wasn’t my most memorable summer, that experience still serves as a reminder of how easy it can be to simply accept what is being offered without advocating for what we really want and deserve.
Can you relate to this experience of being on the losing end of a lop-sided agreement? Perhaps it’s when you accepted a lower starting salary than you really wanted, or thought was fair? Maybe it's when you didn’t ask for the promotion you rightly deserved? Or how about the time you failed to advocate for yourself when the origination credit or career-enhancing opportunity was awarded to someone else?
What do all these examples have in common? These are all important, but often missed, opportunities to negotiate for ourselves to achieve a more equitable and satisfactory result. The truth is many of us, especially women, often settle for less than we want and deserve in our careers. As a result, many women attorneys and leaders stand by and watch while their male counterparts receive more opportunities, promotions and higher salaries. In fact, research reveals how women’s lower pay is due, in part, to their own reluctance to negotiate for themselves.
Why Don’t Women Ask?
Many women don’t get what they want and deserve because they just don’t ask for it. This is understandable given the “double-bind dilemma” women leaders face as they attempt to navigate the conflicting perceptions of being assertive and competent, but also liked and accepted. As such, women who pursue their own interests by negotiating assertively for themselves do so at potential risk to their reputations, relationships and even their careers. In fact, fear of these social penalties is one of the key reasons many women attorneys don’t negotiate for themselves as well as they do for others, including their clients.
… men are asking for things they want and initiating negotiations much more [than women]. Linda Babcock, Women Don't Ask
How to Negotiate for Yourself More Effectively
Negotiation is a form a positive self-advocacy for all of us…not just for attorneys representing their clients. The key to becoming a more successful and comfortable self-advocate is shifting your mindset. Instead of approaching negotiations as a distributive process whereby only one side prevails, consider how negotiations can actually be a collaborative approach to solving problems and identifying solutions for everyone involved. Here are four key considerations to negotiate more effectively for what you want and deserve:
Decide to Negotiate
Perhaps the most critical step in any negotiation is actually making the decision to negotiate on your own behalf. Many of us assume career-related outcomes (e.g., compensation, promotion decisions, job responsibilities, title, etc.) are largely in the hands of others and, therefore, we don’t recognize or shy away from the need to negotiate for ourselves in these situations.
Recognize negotiations are normal and even expected in many areas of your career. And it’s not just about your salary. Many of my career clients are often surprised by how many noncompensation aspects of their careers are negotiable. This can include your working schedule and location, role responsibilities and reporting relationships, as well as professional development opportunities and even professional coaching!
Your decision to negotiate for yourself will not only result in enhanced value in many aspects of your life and career but can also gain you more respect and power in these relationships as well. Trust me, employers take notice of those who advocate for themselves because it's a demonstration of executive presence. It signals to others you aren’t afraid to stand up for yourself.
Do Your Homework
You wouldn’t just show up for an important meeting or presentation without doing your due diligence. Similarly, any successful negotiation requires a lot of preparation. It requires being well informed about the issue(s) to be negotiated, especially from the perspective of the other party.
For example, when negotiating a starting salary with a prospective employer, don’t just focus on your own wants and needs. You should consider the company’s financial standing and growth prospects, as well as any industry-specific market or competitor data and salary surveys. It is also important to assess how your qualifications compare to the requirements of the position to achieve an optimal leveraging posture.
Prior to entering negotiations, it’s also beneficial to conduct a thorough self-evaluation of your priorities, values and interests. This will help you be more clear and intentional about what’s most important to you. It can even help frame your potential counter proposal to determine where you are flexible and where you should stand firm. So, if career advancement is a high priority for you, you may be willing to take a lower initial base salary if there is higher potential for long-term career growth and equity in the company.
Focus on Interests, Not Positions
The key to negotiation success is to focus on interests…not positions. The faulty assumption operating for many inexperienced negotiators is that it’s a zero-sum game such that for one side to “win” a larger portion of what’s at stake, the other party has to “lose” an equal counterpart portion of that fixed pie. But in actuality, the best negotiations are those in which you increase the overall size of the pie by creating value for BOTH sides. A win-win result, if you will.
In the example of negotiating a salary increase with a company undergoing short-term financial constraints, look for creative alternatives to increase value for both parties by demonstrating how your abilities can generate new business or reduce costs in return for longer term growth and earning potential (i.e. equity or higher long-term and/or performance-based bonuses). This win-win approach to negotiations is more successful and improves the relationship because it increases value for both parties in a mutually beneficial way.
Be Tough on the Issue, Easy on the People
Because of the existing double-bind dilemma, women often encounter social sanctions for adopting a tough personal style in negotiations. But the truth is, negotiation is all about influence and your influence increases the more you are liked.
One way to navigate this double-bind is to be assertive and confident about the issue being negotiated, while being cooperative and demonstrating concern for the other party. This approach is more likely to result in a satisfactory solution without risk of damaging the relationship. For example, if there is a dispute regarding business development credit, reinforce your appreciation and respect for the person with whom you are negotiating, while being steadfast about your desire for a fair and equitable resolution.
Also, when asking for what you want and deserve, never do so as a threat or ultimatum. While you may actually get what you ask for, this shortsighted tactic could jeopardize your future opportunities and relationships. Instead, approach the situation as a problem to be solved collaboratively through mutual consideration and respect.
Want to Develop Better Self-Advocacy Skills?
Are you asking for what you really want and deserve in your career? If not, the good news is effective self-advocacy skills can be learned and improved over time with experience and practice. Start small by initiating a negotiation where risks are lower, or the relationship is more intact such as with a close friend or family member. While you may not always prevail in every negotiation, you will certainly lose every opportunity to negotiate if you don’t even try. What do you have to lose?
If you’d like more information on how I can help you advocate for yourself more effectively, please contact me. You are also welcome to schedule a 30-min consultation call with me to learn how coaching can help you "get out of your own way" so you can realize your full potential.
Jill Lynch Cruz, PhD, CPC, GCDF, SPHR
Executive Coach & Career Development Facilitator