Your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness.
There is nothing I love more than a good negotiation. I am very good at it. I especially love the strategic thinking and maneuvering of a high-stakes negotiation. And I shine when I am helping someone who I believe has been wronged, whether an individual or a company. But I’m not nearly as decisive when it comes to internal negotiations with myself.
I can know all sides of the argument and still somehow nearly always negotiate against my own interests. Sometimes I negotiate against myself for what is, ultimately, my own benefit. If I consider whether to purchase an expensive outfit, for example, I can nearly always talk myself out of spending the money. Or when I debate sleeping in or going to work out, I can usually convince myself to get out of bed and hit the gym.
But when I consider a helpful desire or goal, I have less success convincing myself that it is worthy. If I question whether I should take it a little easier at work, for instance, my mind will immediately go to all the reasons the answer should be “No”: I need to set the right example, get more done, or support my team. The same is true when it comes to my goal of writing a book on negotiations. My internal voice supplies endless fuel for arguing against myself and my goals.
Women In Particular Question Themselves
While I love to believe that I am special and the only person who feels this way, I have seen executives do the same thing when it comes to negotiating a new job, a new salary, a promotion, or an exit. They come up with concerns about looking too greedy, too demanding, to assertive, too aggressive. And, unfortunately, I see this more often in female executives than in male ones.
Women are socialized to put others’ needs first. I’m not saying that men don’t put others’ needs first (nor am I denying that some men are also socialized to be people-pleasers), but from childhood, girls are generally socialized to be more empathetic and to prioritize other people. Various studies have borne this out, including The Unwritten Rules of Boyhood and Girlhood, How Women Can Overcome People-Pleasing and Perfectionism, Women and Selfishness, and The Gender Biases that Shape Our Brains. Sadly, the scientific and anecdotal evidence point to this socialization being quite pervasive.
At the same time, there is also a lot of research that says this can be an advantage for women when they negotiate on a team or on behalf of others. See Women and Negotiation: Narrowing the Gender Gap in Negotiation, Women Have Unique Advantages as Negotiators: How Can They Best Use Them?, Are Women Better Negotiators Than Men?, and How Women Can Get What They Want in a Negotiation.
What Can We Do?
So how can we leverage our advantages when working through our internal negotiations? Here are a few critical steps we can take to improve confidence in ourselves and reach our goals.
- Who benefits? Consider how getting to your goal will positively affect people you care about, whether that means your family, your colleagues, or all the clients you will be able to help if you achieve your ambition. Leverage your socialized desire and focus on the communal value of your negotiation.
- Ask a colleague or friend. The research shows that women achieve more in negotiations when they work with a team. The same applies when you are negotiating with yourself. Our insecurities are usually loudest in our head. Friends and colleagues can help you realign your perspective and boost confidence in your position.
- Talk to yourself the way you would advise a friend. Don’t be afraid of a little anger or righteous indignation. Sometimes we need to get real with our friends when they are misleading themselves. Self-care is not always soft or kind. Sometimes it’s a strong push or firm look in the eye.
- Prepare the win-win arguments. Most negotiations are not zero-sum games. Getting what you want can often be an indirect win for the other side. Consider how succeeding could give you more time, more influence, or more opportunity to benefit your counterpart. Write down how those gains will help all sides.
- Remind yourself of the old adage, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Essentially, we are all starting from no and usually have little to lose by asking for what we want. Too often we pass off control of our destiny to some internal voice or perceived external expectation. They may be true, but if we don’t test our assumptions, we will always end up with the same outcome.
Ultimately, whether you are a master negotiator or a novice who fears all conflict, you can shift your perspective to create more opportunity for yourself and others. Anyone who is interested in growing, learning, and evolving can become a better negotiator, even with yourself . . . Or so I tell myself as I debate whether I can really write that book I have been considering.