I believe in gratitude. I am deeply grateful for my family, our good health and the fact that, by all accounts, we live an exceptionally privileged life with everything we need — more than we need, in fact. I take nothing for granted: I am grateful for clean water, our safety and all of the things we never have to worry about. We know that our problems are of the first-world nature, and we all work hard to keep one another’s perspective in check.
It would seem that gratitude — the attitude and philosophy that’s been marketed to women in magazines, daytime talk shows and social media as the cure-all for discontent — is a perspective for all occasions that would serve your emotional health and well-being no matter what. But I beg to differ: Wholesale gratitude can be detrimental and damaging in certain circumstances.
As an expert in revenue generation, I work with lots of women as a coach and consultant, helping them negotiate their worth. Many of my clients have never asked for a raise in their entire career. While there are many layers to the gender divide regarding negotiation, one component is excessive gratitude — and it can limit self-advocacy and compromise professional advancement.
Women will tell me they are just grateful to have a job or note that their boss is kind to them — even if they know they are earning less than their colleagues or less than market rate. In a workshop I conducted for female attorneys on asking for your worth, one participant raised her hand and said, “I’m really lucky because my manager appreciates me, and I’m so grateful to be treated with decency.”
I find this response both sad and frustrating because it reflects a compromised standard and low self-worth. Decency shouldn’t replace appropriate remuneration — it should be a given. Kindness and respect will not pay your mortgage, fill your children’s bellies or take care of you in your old age. When we lower our standards and expect very little, it shouldn’t be surprising that we get very little.
But it’s this attitude that prohibits women from negotiating salary increases. It clouds their judgment. When you accept less because your boss is a nice guy and the company is a pleasant place to work, you are making a decision to earn less than you rightly deserve. Even entrepreneurs fall prey to excessive gratitude when they score a big client and are so happy to have a client at all that they underprice themselves. Too much gratitude can suggest that you don’t believe you are worthy or deserving of something you’ve earned, and this belief system can hold you back.
It’s good be grateful, but don’t allow gratitude to replace an analysis of your value. Be grateful and don’t be afraid to make a case for what you deserve. Go to salary negotiations with a solid communication plan with facts.
Know what your position commands in the open market, present a portfolio of your work, demonstrate that you know your value and ask questions about what information they need to achieve your target salary. Come in with a plan and notes. Keep your emotions in check and remember that your contributions, experience and talents deserve to be appropriately compensated.
Ann marie Houghtailing is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and performer who has mastered creating a dollar out of thin air and has dedicated her career to teaching others to do the same. She is the author of “How I Created a Dollar Out of Thin Air” and is producing the documentary Architecting Our Own Glass Ceilings.