Practice Makes Perfect: Little Ways to Ask for More

Take note of what she is sayingBy Robin Madell (San Francisco)

In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Heidi Miller, who was formerly head of the international business line at J.P. Morgan, recommended that women in finance get comfortable with asking for more.

In the article, Miller describes a time earlier in her career when she worked for Chemical Bank and learned firsthand the value of asking for what you want. After experiencing some frustrations in her position, she considered quitting. But before making a final decision, she practiced asking for a list of demands, and then presented this list to her manager. Her practice paid off when she received everything that she asked for—including the title of managing director and a bump in salary.

No matter what level of the organization you’ve currently reached, there are little ways that you can learn to improve your skills at requesting more of what you want and deserve in the workplace. To explore the best strategies, The Glass Hammer spoke with Carol Frohlinger, co-author of Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It.

Frohlinger, who is also a co-founder of Negotiating Women, explains that she wrote the book with co-author Lois Frankel because girls are socialized to be “nice,” and some women end up carrying those messages into life as adults, causing them to be reluctant to ask for what they deserve. (See “How to Navigate the Niceness Paradox, Part 1” and “Part 2.”)

“Girls are told they should be seen but not heard, should let others take the lead, and should put the needs of others’ first,” explains Frohlinger. “But it is also important to note that gender stereotypes are operative—and both men and women believe them. As a result, when women do ask, they can face backlash because the cultural expectation is that they won’t ask.”

Frohlinger emphasizes the importance of applying negotiation and communication principles and skills to one’s personal life, as well as to workplace situations. “I think this aspect has been neglected—and I firmly believe that one can’t be successful at work unless you negotiate for whatever you need at home,” she says.

Strategies for Starting Small

Women who find it difficult to ask for what they want and need can get more comfortable in many ways. Here are some ideas to use as starting points:

  • Start with low-risk situations. The idea of asking for what you want or learning to negotiate can seem overwhelming when what’s on the table is very important to you—for example, increased salary, better benefits, or a new title. To avoid the stress of requesting big-ticket items, save these for later, and start smaller with your requests to improve your comfort level. “Start with low-risk situations when it won’t change your life if you aren’t successful,” suggests Frohlinger. She adds that it can help to choose situations outside of the office to practice, such as calling the cable company to negotiate because they didn’t deliver service for a period of time, or sending food back to the kitchen in a restaurant because it wasn’t cooked the way you requested.
  • Think differently. Sometimes the way that we think about situations prepares us to avoid them or to fail. If you fear asking for what you want, or convince yourself that negotiation is stressful, then you’ll have a harder time mustering up the nerve to get it done. “Think about negotiation as simply reaching agreement, rather than building it up in your mind as something that is difficult to do,” says Frohlinger. “In that way, your confidence will increase.”
  • Be clear. What botches many an attempt to get what we want is the delivery. Lack of clarity in the request can make it difficult for your boss or other person whom you’re asking to deliver effectively. Therefore, be sure to prepare before approaching a negotiation situation. Take time in advance to write down your needs and develop the specific language you’ll use to make your requests. “Always be very clear about what it is that you want,” says Frohlinger. “In the example above with the cable company, your objective is to get a rebate for the period of time the cable company didn’t deliver service. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t get it.”
  • Consider “Plan B.” You can’t always get exactly what you want—but if you have options in mind, you may be able to get at least part of it. Frohlinger recommends thinking in advance about what alternatives you have if you are unable to reach agreement with the other person. She describes this negotiation concept as BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). “The better your alternatives, the more leverage you have in the negotiation,” explains Frohlinger. “Also consider the other party’s BATNA; they probably have as much to lose as you do if you are unable to reach agreement. This is particularly true in the case of family, friends, and colleagues because you have a common interest in enhancing the relationship you share.”
  • Anticipate push-back. Most requests or negotiations contain some back and forth. While your idea may not sail through with no resistance the first time you ask, if you can plan for the push-back that you’re likely to receive, then you can plan how you’ll respond to it. “Keep in mind, it’s one thing to know what you are going to say; it’s another to actually get the words out of your mouth effectively,” says Frohlinger. “That’s why, if it’s an important negotiation, you should go one step further and enlist a friend to practice with you. Provide your friend with enough information about the situation—and about the person with whom you are negotiating—so that she or he can play the role convincingly.”

By using these types of “self-coaching” strategies, you can learn to build your negotiation skills little by little. It’s a case of practice makes perfect. Frohlinger concludes: “After the interaction, you can think about the things you did that worked (and why they worked), as well as considering what you will do next time to be more successful.”

Note: The Glass Hammer is proud to call Carol Frohlinger a strategic partner. We have worked exclusively with Carol since 2008, designing and delivering leadership and negotiating training to women and women’s networks in the financial markets. Please see our sister website or email if you are interested in working with us.