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Go for Yours

The art of negotiation.

Because I’ve internalized a lot of this backlash, it has taken me almost 30 years to rediscover the power of being able to ask for what I want—especially when it comes to money. That’s hard for me to admit, because I’m a feminist who sees myself as strong, capable, and independent. Still, I’m not going to lie—there is a side of me that is sometimes worried about being stereotyped, judged, or alienated for coming on too strong.

Sadly, women are still encouraged to adapt to the needs and desires of others, to put our own expectations and dreams aside in order to be “nice,” or to not be seen as “aggressive.” It’s no surprise that young female college graduates get paid less than their male counterparts—and the situation not getting better. It’s getting worse. It has to stop. Life is way too short to be suffocating our truest selves and stifling our power to make other people feel more comfortable.

When, as an official adult, I began reflecting on my meager finances, some of the major decisions I’ve made in the last decade—like keeping my mouth shut when I needed raises, and maxing out my credit cards to make ends meet instead of finding creative ways to make more money—I realized I had to change the way I operated. Being more assertive about what I needed and wanted was critical to my survival. I decided to appoint myself as CEO and HBIC of my own life, to take back some of the power that I clearly recognized as my birthright as a child.

Step one was to observe my habits. I noticed that my hesitation about asserting my value in financial negotiations mirrored my behavior with roommate conflicts, relationship issues, and friendships. I recognized that I have an aversion to conflict, and a fear of being ostracized and excluded. And I knew that these feelings would persist until I took definite action.

I identified the key moments where I lost some of my childhood negotiating chutzpah. I graduated from college during a depressed economy following September 11, 2001, so I felt lucky to find a job right away, while it took many of my friends three to six months to secure any kind of employment.

My first job didn’t work out, so I left for a better one, one that ignited my passion and offered amazing benefits, a decent salary, and many other perks. I remained at that organization for five years. During my time there, I appreciated the raises and promotions I received and never felt like I needed to advocate for more, because I was always paid fairly. Stupidly, I figured this was how it worked everywhere.

When I reluctantly left that job to relocate for graduate school and a new public-relations job, I assumed that any new gig would also pay me what I was worth. I ended up making the mistake of taking a major pay cut to work in a more expensive city.

I tried to ask for more money, but I was told that if I worked hard for six months, I’d be eligible for bonuses and raises (that never came). I fell into what I call “nonprofit martyr mode” and felt guilty about advocating for the value of my skills—if I was dedicated to this organization’s work, how dare I be so greedy as to ask for a fair wage? I deluded myself into thinking that I was sacrificing my material needs for the sake of “the movement,” and I kept quiet, afraid of losing this work opportunity.

I felt uncomfortable and frustrated about my compensation, and so I left about a year later for another job, which came with excellent benefits and better wages. However, this new gig was in education, a field in which you’re constantly being told that resources are extremely limited—especially when you attempt to negotiate for a higher salary. So I never asked for a raise. I wasn’t confident enough to state my terms, as I had as a child—terms that I knew would be mutually beneficial for my higher-ups and myself.

It was a full five years after that that I finally decided to get to the root of my fears and anxieties about negotiation. I signed up for a negotiation-coaching course with She Negotiates University. SNU taught me how to invest in myself, strengthen my finances, and save myself from future resentment, tears, and missed opportunities; but the most valuable lessons I learned were about my personal power and potential.

SNU asked us to keep journals of our personal and professional negotiations. Our coaches helped us set individual goals, shared their expertise, and led us in role-plays where we practiced initiating and implementing money conversations and agreements, and discussed how sexism can impact women in our negotiations.

In my journaling and role plays, I realized that a lot of the discomfort I felt about financial negotiations originated in times when I undersold myself, undermined my skills and expertise, or hid in the shadows so that I wouldn’t be punished for being perceived as “too much,” “too intense,” “too aggressive,” or “too demanding” because of social norms and cultural stigmas related to my age, race, and gender.

SNU taught me to be a better negotiator, but not in the ways I thought it would. I thought that I would get some technical negotiating pointers; but instead I was forced to confront, address, and then transcend the underlying issues that were stopping me from asking for things on my own behalf.

I took away five main things from this training:

1. Own your power. I used to view power and earning potential as things that authority figures might give to me if I was “good,” rather than things I already had. I now see every negotiation as an opportunity to collaborate to find outcomes, to leverage what I already possess, and, finally, to get practice asking for what I want, even if I don’t get my desired result every time.

2. Know thyself. I learned that it is always best to go into any negotiation having a strong sense and understanding of your self-worth (and your bottom line) before you can expect others to recognize and affirm your value.

3. Negotiations are relationships. Now, I approach every one of these situations by asking for what I want and choosing to believe that my negotiation partners want a mutually beneficial outcome (which they usually do). As in any relationship, honest and clear communication is key, and passive aggression is more likely to hinder a relationship rather than help it grow.

4. Practice does make perfect. I loved the role-plays so much at SNU that I now practice negotiations with my partner, my parents, and my besties whenever I need to prepare to make a big ask. I enjoy having an opportunity to hear feedback, anticipate potential questions, and get advice about ways I can make my case even stronger.

5. Enjoy the silence, and don’t be afraid to walk away. Being confident enough to walk away from a bad deal and suffering through awkward silences or criticism instead of capitulating any time I feel uncomfortable has been a priceless and powerful lesson.

Appreciating your own value and asking for what you need are incredibly important acts of self-care. Knowing how to unapologetically ask for stuff has implications beyond salary or grade decisions. Whether you’re negotiating safe-sex measures with a potential partner, setting healthy boundaries with friends and family, standing up to a dominating teacher, or facing off with your supervisor, you’ll need to know how to express your needs in order to thrive.

Studying negotiation and strengthening my bargaining mojo rocked my world; that journey revealed to me that I value myself most when I’m speaking and standing for my truth in any and all situations—with or without repercussions. Now that I have embraced the art of unapologetically asking for I want, I’m feeling more like my much braver, bolder, badass little Mia self—and it feels amazing. ♦

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27 Comments

  • SiLK September 18th, 2012 3:14 PM

    I know what I will be working on!

  • angst September 18th, 2012 3:20 PM

    This is so beautiful and inspiring and empowering! As women, we forget so easily how much we give up and how much we are subconsciously thrown under the bus and how little of the time anyone does anything about it.
    http://onmyroadtofindout.blogspot.com/

  • Serena.K September 18th, 2012 3:25 PM

    “Saudi Arabia, where I grew up, was the perfect place to learn to negotiate.” Yay a shout-out to the sandbox!!! (This is so true, though. Negotiating and bargaining are so ingrained in the culture here.)

    • Serena.K September 18th, 2012 3:32 PM

      P.S. This is a really inspiring article! Often I shy away from negotiations for fear of being seen as rude or ungrateful or bossy but reading things like this on Rookie encouraged me to become more assertive.

  • JoanaNielsen September 18th, 2012 3:32 PM

    I think there were times in my life when I wanted so bad to be heard that I caused huge debates between me and my mates just in order to feel more powerful. However, I somehow got lost in that path and found myself adopting arguments I didn’t even truly believe in. I felt so strong while stating my point of view that I totally forgot what it feels like to respect others in order to be respected. I’ve said many stupid things in order to ALWAYS be successful while dealing with other people and I regret a lot of ideals I adopted as my own without properly thinking, because some of them were ridiculous and only degraded the opinions of other people on me.
    Now, I’m trying to calm down and stay away from debates in which I can’t participate for lack of knowledge. I was fooling myself whenever I tried to win arguments I haven’t really thought of before, and nothing will make you look more stupid than trying to impress debating something you know nothing about. You will look ignorant and uncultured and people will hate you.
    I think acknowledging I was wrong is a big step for someone like me who HATES to lose. I hope I can find the balance this article speaks of, and I wish good luck to everyone out there trying to do the same.

  • RockHatesMiriam September 18th, 2012 3:39 PM

    This is so inspiring and empowering! I definitely need to work on my negotiating skills though…haha

    http://www.pompandceremony.blogspot.com

  • la fee clochette September 18th, 2012 3:40 PM

    Thanks for this. Recently was laid off from a most amazing teaching job, and finally found a waitressing job. I was relieved to have something, and I have the experience it past food service jobs to know the hard work it involves.

    However, the boss/owner/lead cook, who is a woman, is verbally abusive, yet I have stayed; trying to convince myself that her words and name calling is justified.

    Though the hours and pay is amazing, her attitude and arbitrary outbursts on me and my other co-worker (and her husband) has significantly torn down my self esteem, and has wrecked havoc on my eating habits, from the anxiety.

    I have told her what she is doing is wrong and ineffective in creating a good work environment, but hse has made no change.

    I am putting in my two week notice tomorrow, and though I am nervous about telling her i am leaving, i am also extremely relieved.

    So thank you for writing this essay, and reminding me to be proud of myself as a worker, and to ultimately have respect for myself.

  • ai-ai September 18th, 2012 3:52 PM

    So inspiring! I think that articles like this are the thing that makes Rookie so great, a balance of important issues and more lighthearted stuff.

  • rayfashionfreak September 18th, 2012 3:53 PM

    Great piece!

  • rayfashionfreak September 18th, 2012 3:54 PM

    There is a meet up for all Scottish Rookie Readers at the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow this Saturday, the 22nd of September. If you are interested please email me at fancyfashionfreak@gmail.com (p.s. this is not my usual personal email address, but I will reply to any questions)

  • marimba_girl September 18th, 2012 4:00 PM

    This is so true! My current physics lab partner does absolutely none of the work and refused to even after I confronted him. I spoke to my teacher about both of us receiving separate grades but he would not believe that my partner did not do any of the work. I was so angry and upset that I had no response and just walked away. I still have no idea what I am going to do.

    • Graciexx September 20th, 2012 5:41 AM

      hey marimba girl, I’m really sorry about that, I know how frustrating it is:P You should try speaking to your pastoral care instructor, councillor, homeroom teacher, mentor, heck even the principal! If none of that works, talk to your parents about it and see if they can approach the school. Teachers will usually respond more to parents unfortunately. Good luck!

      Graciexx

  • GlitterKitty September 18th, 2012 4:20 PM

    Very inspiring! I feel like every time I read one of Jamia’s articles I get a little more self confidence and learn something new. I’ve always been a very nervous person and too afraid of conflict but hopefully this will help me push out of that a little. Great article!

  • Abby September 18th, 2012 5:01 PM

    UGH, I am such a pushover. Maybe this article will help me. But on the other hand, I do the same thing as you do when I work in groups. If I’m in a group that has a clear leader, I’ll stay in the background and do as I’m told. But if I’m the only one willing to do work, I’ll do all of it or dictate to everyone else. And I ALWAYS get in trouble for it. Um…. what else am I supposed to do? Every time I try to tell teachers that the other students aren’t doing their share they say I’m complaining and not working together well, so I do all the work, and then they say that I shouldn’t have done that. It makes me nuts.

    But for the most part, I’m kind of a pushover. I have major trouble asking for what I want because my parents always taught me to be happy with what I had and that it was rude to ask for something (like a raise) that you didn’t explicitly need. I obviously disagree… I just have a really hard time putting that into action because I hate conflict and a lot of the time I’ll just say “okay,” and shrink away when people disagree or say no.

  • Jamia September 18th, 2012 5:53 PM

    THANK YOU!!!! I love hearing about Rookies owning their power and taking names. you inspire me.

  • Lamia September 18th, 2012 6:49 PM

    As I was reading this, I couldn’t help but nod at everything. I once made a PowerPoint for my parents to convince them that I actually needed to adopt kittens. In the end, I won them over and we got the kittens.

    An even better coincidence is that my name is Lamia and I also go by Mia.

    Great article, bookmarked for the troubles I will surely face in college in a few days :)

  • Moxx September 18th, 2012 7:36 PM

    I think this is true! I feel like people feel that girls have to be quiet and “nice”, and if you’re not exactly like that, then you’re rude, even if you were being polite.
    “be nice and smile”

    It drives me insane

    Why are brooding boys attractive
    But not brooding girls?
    Angry boys, outspoken boys, audacious boys, aggressive boys
    But not girls?

  • Lucy23 September 18th, 2012 10:36 PM

    Thank you so much for this. Seriously.

    http://safeanarchy.blogspot.com

  • Jessica W September 19th, 2012 2:08 AM

    This reminds me of a little debate I had a while ago about whether it’s okay to be forceful in life (with a somewhat conservative individual). It was the old “go with the flow”… “you deserve what you get”… etc. story.
    Which is just… Stupid.
    Doing, and saying, what you want to get what you want is a sign of self-respect and confidence in yourself. Never cruise along in life. Go negotiating!

    The Lovelorn

  • starpower September 19th, 2012 5:42 AM

    Thank you, this is great!

  • Lila Gracie September 19th, 2012 7:14 AM

    i was talking about how good it is to be ambitious with my friend the other day, and it led onto a conversation about how women need to break out of that awful traditional submissive role and really see that they can be just as and more ambitious than men. i hate that it’s so common for men to be congratulated for negotiating and being ambitious but women in exactly the same situation are often criticised. totally unfair

  • eliza dolittle September 19th, 2012 8:15 AM

    i JUST watched this video before reading this article and now i am so filled with rage
    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html
    but like a good productive rage that i will always do my best to fight for myself. i went to an all girls high school, so leaving and finding the differences in how i am treated in university and at work when i act the same as my male counterparts is INSANELY FRUSTRATING. 60 year old physics teachers man.

  • miss_kayce September 19th, 2012 11:10 AM

    “In all kinds of settings—school, church, office, family, etc.—I’ve noticed that when you’re a gal who isn’t afraid to dish out some real talk or get your hands dirty by navigating conflict instead of skirting around it, some people will try to shame you into reining in your personal power, silencing your voice, and thinking that it isn’t your place to speak.”

    my truth!

    it’s funny that you mention break-ups, because in my personal experience i get far more backlash from *women* than men. (not that i care about men, as a proud misandrist dyke lol.) but seriously, my unapologetic outspokenness, and desire to assert myself has alienated me from more groups of women than i can count. i’m proud of you for trying to find your voice again, and appreciate you sharing a story that hits oh-so-close to home.

  • a-anti-anticapitalista September 20th, 2012 12:33 PM

    I don’t agree with the idea that we should fight to gain the same privilege that males have. The fight should be to end oppression, not to make opportunities for women to oppress equal to those of men within capitalism, or to make upper/middle class women equal in status to their male counterparts. I do think we should be fighting to end gender binaries, but the fight also shouldn’t be “women have to be more like this or less like that, being aggressive is good and if men get to be it then women should too!” -although that’s not necessarily what they author is saying, to be fair, but many people will probably interpret it that way. Definitely agree with ending the idea that there is an essential female and she needs to act this way, and the equivalent for males, and that we should be boxed in to gender categories, but I don’t think there is anything helpful from this if what you are doing is trying to end one form of oppression while simultaneously encouraging another.

  • Jamia September 21st, 2012 8:58 PM

    To be clear–The goal is equality and countering oppression in all of its forms. By no means is this about reiterating oppressive behavior or promoting “aggression”. Speaking up, being assertive, standing for your truth, and taking one’s rightful place in the midst of sexism, classism, ableism, racism, homophobia, and nationalism is not about reifying patriarchy or domination at all. It is about amplifying our voices and not being afraid to be seen or heard.

  • Deltalima September 22nd, 2012 9:59 PM

    I have about 20 books on Negotiating. The best two are by Roger Dawson, with the best one being “You can get anything you want (But you have to Ask).” He talks about personality styles and elements of power. “Secrets of Power Persuasion” is another one of his books that is good. “Negotiating for Dummies” is good, by Michael and Mimi Donaldson. Most of us can’t go to a special course, but we can go to a bookstore and get a book.

  • gstans September 23rd, 2012 12:31 PM

    THANK YOU! I’m angling for my first promotion in my first real life job right now and this is so helpful. Doing the whole applying somewhere else to get a counter offer thing. I will definitely use these tips to prepare!