Countless research studies on gender and negotiation, power, promotion, pay gap and productivity have been hurled into public consumption, chewed and digested by all forms of media, then interpreted into “good advice for women” by well-meaning managers, trainers and consultants — myself included.
Women have heard a litany of contradictory advice for thriving in their careers:
- Be strong, but don’t be bossy
- Be powerful, but be deferential
- Sing your own praises, but be inclusive and use the “we” voice
- Be passionate, but don’t be emotional or cry
- Be collaborative but don’t be a doormat
It’s time women found a way to get the world and the workplace to conform to them. How do you do that? Start fresh at ground zero with five key actions:
1. Find yourself
You are who you are. If you are shy and quiet, it’s not likely that you will succeed in willing yourself to become a gregarious backslapper. You can add skills and degrees and certifications. You can sharpen your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. But starting at ground zero requires reflection to move in a more authentic, purposeful direction.
- Make an exhaustive list of everything you’ve accomplished and contributed in the past year or two
- Mine that list for three things: values, strengths and repeating themes
- Turn your accomplishments into compelling stories that can be told in interviews, performance reviews, and networking internally and externally
What you learn from this exercise should give you the self-intelligence to pursue goals, choices and learning that honors your values and makes the best use of your strengths.
2. Find your allies
When positioning yourself for new projects, promotions and raises, or when you need support navigating bias and other workplace inequities, your posse can rally on your behalf — and you can rally for them when the time comes.
- Identify people who have the power to help you achieve your career goals and put them on your radar immediately.
- Connect with people who are working on projects that you would like to be a part of
- Offer your help, before you’re asked if possible
- Ask for reciprocity when the timing is right. If you don’t, you’ll risk being perceived as a doormat
3. Find the pain
What issues or challenges are you uniquely capable of solving for others? Where do your strategic career goals map to your ally’s pain points and strategic career goals?
- Develop a list of open-ended, “diagnostic” questions you can ask to determine what your ally wants and needs
- Once you understand their goals and preferences, you can frame what you bring to the party as a benefit to you and your conversation partner
- Be prepared to tell a success story that shows — not tells — how you do what you do
4. Find the elephant
Most negotiations are problem-solving, value-creating conversations. If you are trying to solve a problem and you keep hitting roadblocks, likely an elephant is lurking in the living room. It’s may be an issue with your team, for example, that everyone is thinking about, but not talking about. If the elephant isn’t in the living room, it might be in the closet, and you are just the person to let it out.
- Identify, for yourself, what you think the issue is
- Ask to speak with your “elephant” partners
- Establish collaboratively what your shared purpose — or high-level goal — is
- Take your part and refrain from leaning on your story
- Brainstorm strategies
- Agree on key actions and accountabilities (what, who and by when)
5. Find the money in “bossy”
“Bossy” is a female pejorative and, research shows, men and women perceive “bossy” behavior as somehow contrary to good leadership. On the other hand, you can call a man aggressive, or even a jerk, and he will more likely achieve and retain his power.
When you run into bias and pushback, speak truth to power. Let me give you an example. Jessie was a client tapped for having leadership bones. But she had been told by her boss — a notorious screamer — that her “demanding and exacting” leadership style would hold her back, even though she was loved and admired by her team and by leadership. She asked her boss, “If you were me, what would you do?” And her boss said, “You know, be kinder. Listen more.”
Then Jessie stepped into dangerous waters. She said, “I’m committed to hitting our production targets and always improving productivity. That’s what I’m known for. I’m paid to be demanding and I have a team who loves me. This smells like a double standard to me. What if I asked you to be kinder, and listen more?”
Because Jessie found the money in “bossy” and hooked into her confidence and activism, her boss saw realized his own bias.
These five actions take commitment and practice, and each involves having conversations that lead to agreement. And that is what negotiation is — a conversation leading to a good agreement.