Have You Ever Asked for a Raise?
I pride myself on being a savvy businessperson, career focused and ambitious, and yet I went 19 years without ever asking for a raise. I didn’t think I needed to. Instead, I just worked very hard and hoped my boss would notice and reward me. My strategy seemed to work — until the recession. Since the market collapse in 2008, very few companies are handing out increases unless an employee makes a case for it.
At home, I found I could always get my husband to say yes. Yes to where I wanted to vacation or go to dinner on Saturday night. Yes to new furniture or home repairs. But his yes never stuck. So I invested in a negotiation course.
Negotiation is one of the most powerful yet underutilized skills a woman can develop. Whether you are asking for a raise, seeking a new assignment, closing a deal, looking to telecommute or trying get some help with the laundry, you need to know how to negotiate.
Here’s what often holds us back, and how to overcome it to master the art of negotiation.
Why We Don’t Negotiate
Women who don’t negotiate have a number of reasons why they avoid it.
First, asking for what we want goes against our “good girl” upbringing. Let’s face it: So many of the traits that got us ahead in the first place are the result of how good we are. We’ve been good daughters, good listeners and good employees. But we fear a backlash for appearing too aggressive and pushy. Researchers and academics talk about the double bind for women. We won’t get ahead if we don’t ask, but if we do, we appear too aggressive. (One way to get around this: try framing the request to what is in the best interest of both parties at the negotiating table.)
For others, negotiating comes easily at work — but not at home. When it comes to asking our partners and families for the support we need at home, we freeze. And some women don’t negotiate simply because, like me pre-2008, they never tried.
Here are six steps to help you become a skillful negotiator both in and out of the office.
Stop Being So Good
The first step in becoming a skilled negotiator is to stop being so good. When women star in the good girl role at work, they view their jobs as meeting or beating expectations, making their clients’ and bosses’ lives easier and trying to only solve problems — never to cause them. That’s not a bad way to operate, except when women view asking for a raise or assignment as being out of alignment with their good girl character.
But if we truly think about what we want for ourselves, we’ll see that asking is a good thing to do. For starters, by asking for what we want, we are giving our bosses a chance to meet our needs. And in meeting our needs, we are helping them retain a good employee. If you are truly as good as the role you’ve cast yourself in, then the boss probably wants to hold on to you. So asking for what you deserve can only help both parties create a satisfactory working relationship.
The same goes for playing the role of good wife and good mother. How many of us can recall a time in our childhood when our mothers, tired of picking up after everyone, went on strike and as a result, the family went into a tailspin? If we ask for what we want before we reach our breaking point, we’ll do everyone in the house a favor.
Negotiate for the Greater Good
Even though we want to shed our good girl thinking when we enter into negotiations, do keep the greater good in mind. As women, one of the greatest strengths we have is our network of other women. And when we work together, we can be powerful.
During negotiations, stop thinking about yourself and start thinking of all the other women in your network. Reframe your thought process to include the welfare of others as well as your own. Instead of thinking, ”Am I being too assertive?” or “Who do I think I am to ask for (fill in the blank)?” shift the situation and frame it around your network of women. Your thought process then becomes, “What do women need to manage a family in this economy?” “How can I leverage my strengths to advance women?” “What do women deserve?” Suddenly, it’s a whole new conversation, and the stakes are even higher. Try the same exercise with your family in mind. “What does my family deserve in exchange for my hours away from home?” And suddenly you’re negotiating from a position of strength.
Do Your Homework
Never enter into a negotiation if you’re not prepared. If you’re not feeling strong and organized, postpone. In addition to thinking through what you want and what you have to offer the other party, you also want to research:
- Who else tried to negotiate the same thing?
- What kind of obstacles did they face?
- What objections did they hear?
Think through possible tradeoffs and line up your allies. Ask yourself how you are going to make your request work for everyone involved. If you’re asking for a higher deal price, what are you offering in return? If you want someone else to do the grocery shopping, what are you willing to shift? Do you want to work from home? Then how will you make it work for your clients and your team?
Pick Your Battles
As you become comfortable with negotiating, you realize that everything is flexible. But that doesn’t mean you should ask for everything you want. Learn to pick your battles. Keep your long-term goals in mind as well as your short-term goals. For example, if your long-term goal is to join the management team in your thirties in order to have more flexibility as a working mother, then perhaps asking to work from home isn’t the right call in your twenties.
Likewise, if you’re looking to increase your responsibilities at work and will need more help during the morning routine, the timing might not be right to ask your spouse to cover all weekend activities.
When the time is right to negotiate, remember that it’s a two-way street. For example, if your company gives you the flexibility to work from home on Fridays, are you willing to give them the flexibility to come in occasionally for important meetings?
How to Negotiate at Home
Strong negotiators ask lots of diagnostic questions, such as “What are your thoughts about…?”; “Would you be open to… ?”; “Are you concerned about…?” That type of exchange might feel natural across the conference table, but isn’t necessarily how you’re used to speaking at the kitchen table. Practice. In order to effectively negotiate with a spouse or partner, we need to remove some of the emotion we naturally attach to the situation or outcome. Diagnostic questions can help.
Removing emotion from negotiation is much easier for some women when they are talking to a boss rather than a spouse. That’s because at home, we often have expectations of how we think we are supposed to be as a wife and a mother. Think through what is truly realistic in your personal circumstances and try to leave who and how you think the rest of the world wants to see you in order to create realistic outcomes. Negotiating an equitable arrangement at home is critical in order for us to achieve equity at work.
Negotiation Is a Process, Not an Event
Negotiation, by definition, is a discussion entered into in order to reach an agreement. Strong negotiators understand the desired outcome is win-win. And this is where women can excel. Many of the personality traits that are typically perceived as feminine are assets in negotiation. Negotiation requires active listening, empathy, patience and a genuine interest in others.
It may sound cliché, but it’s true: “No” is often the starting point, not the ending point of negotiation. Successful negotiations don’t usually happen in one try. Take salary discussion: Unless you’re already slated for an increase, it’s unrealistic to expect you can walk into your boss’s office, ask for a raise and get to yes. Invest the time in meaningful discussions and a healthy exchange of ideas in order to reach a mutually satisfying agreement. And even then, the negotiating shouldn’t end.
Renegotiation is a critical step in the process. As goals are met and circumstances change, revisit your agreements. For example, if you scaled back at work after the birth of a child and are now increasing your hours at the office, make sure to renegotiate the division of labor at home.
Successful negotiation takes practice, patience and a willingness to try.
Liz O’Donnell is the author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman, and the founder of Hello Ladies.