Episode 129: Will They Still Like Me? The Power of Negotiation (part 2)

Show transcript: 

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, part two of our show on negotiation.

“I was worried that if I am negotiating on behalf of myself that I will be viewed as pushy or aggressive, or it will somehow make me less likeable.”

A lot of you will know exactly what she’s talking about.

Coming up.  

In the last show you met negotiation trainer Natalie Reynolds. I loved her practical advice and positive attitude. But I always knew that to do a show on this I wanted to talk to a regular person – not just a professional negotiator. I wanted to talk to someone like me. Someone who’s often found negotiating pretty excruciating but was keen to get better at it.

Neda Frayha is just that person. She’s a medical doctor; she works near Baltimore. After finishing her training she worked in academic medicine for almost 8 years – so seeing patients, but also teaching and doing quite a bit of administration as well. Then last year, at age 40, she underwent a big career change. Like the women in my recent show on women in medicine, Neda felt burnt out. She wanted a change of pace. Today, she works one day a week doing primary care, and the other days, she’s the editor of a continuing education podcast for physicians.

It was a big deal to switch things up that much, but Neda says…

“It’s been a very positive life change in so many ways.”

She loves the work. And we’ll come back to her negotiation for that job in a bit.

I wanted to start by going back to her first job offer as a young doctor. She was applying for a role at the same institution where she’d done her training.

AM-T: “So with that very first job, they offer you a job, with a package. Did you just say great, thank you? Or did you attempt to negotiate that?”

“So I did much to my own dismay – not long afterwards and many years afterwards, I did just say great, thank you, when it came to the salary. Part of the reason for that was that one person who was gonna be one of my bosses in the new arrangement – she told me that if I made any more than that starting salary I’d be making more than some of her more her senior people, who I loved and respected as a trainee. So I thought well I can’t make more than they do, they’re my role models. And so that was a huge reason why right off the bat I never even thought to negotiate the salary or any of the benefits, I truly just accepted it.”

She says another reason she didn’t negotiate?  As someone finishing up her residency and taking her first official job, the salary was a huge jump from what she had been on.  

“And I think it’s very easy to say, oh my gosh, this is so much more than I made as a resident, who am I to complain about this?”

AM-T: “You say you later regretted it, and not long afterwards regretted not negotiating, now why? I was gonna ask you, do you think the person who said if you got more you’d be getting more than your teachers, basically, do you think she was dissembling a little bit, I mean why did you regret it?”

“Because I discovered I was behind the eight ball from the very beginning. And now when I give advice to medical residents coming up behind me, I tell people that first salary you make out of training will serve as the foundation for every salary you’ll make afterwards. And so when I started off, with what I learned later to be lower than many of my peers, I had to work so much harder to make up that ground and that led for me to what felt like uncomfortable negotiations later to make even what my peers were earning.”

AM-T: “So even though she had told you that you were earning the top rate…do you think she was lying or what, because I think if it was me I’d have thought the same thing, ‘I can’t possibly earn more than them.’”

“Absolutely. Part of the situation too was that I was staying where I had trained. There’s a certain psyche where if you’re at that same place you went to school to do your training, you’re in that people pleasing mode. More senior people may see you as very junior even though you’re an official attending physician. So I felt that sense of deference to everyone around me.

All these years later I truly don’t think she was lying, I think I was making something comparable to a few people I knew and respected, but they were being savvy in their careers and over the years they negotiated fantastic salaries for themselves. And these things are not really public, we don’t talk about these things. 

So years later, I learned these same people who’d served as the benchmark for my starting salary were hustling and earning more of an income for themselves by careful and thoughtful negotiations, by proving their worth within the organization. And I was just floating along, realizing all of a sudden I’m really behind.”

That thing of realizing what someone else earns, someone on the same level as you – it was a big motivator for me too. Like Neda, I was floating along, assuming everything was fair. It didn’t even occur to me that someone in the same job would be getting paid more. Finding out they were shocked me out of my complacency and had me making calls to ask to have my pay adjusted. Which it was. And after that first incident I was much more aware of that need to keep on top of what others were earning.

In the last show you heard Natalie talk about how important it is for us to do our research before a negotiation. To find out how much others in the same job – or the job we want – are getting paid.

I asked Neda if she’d embarked on this prior to job discussions later in her career. What did she say?  

“In some cases when the person was very close to me or a close friend I would outright ask. I put it in the context of, ‘I’m worried I’m not earning the same as my peers, would you mind giving me a range of where you are?’ And most of the time my close friends would tell me point blank what they earned.

I also worked in a state system, where all salaries were online…and even though those numbers may not be 100 percent accurate and there’s other math that’s not accounted for in that, there’s a very searchable database where you can look people up and can find out what they’re making. And I felt really guilty doing that, I felt sort of shady, like I was being a sneaky person trying to find out what others were making. But when you see people in your own group and your own practice are earning considerably more than you, and there’s no clear reason why…so sometimes there’s rank, so of course a full professor is very different from someone starting out as an assistant professor…but there are other times where you’re doing same work. So it provided me with a lot of very helpful data and it made me feel a little bit better about doing that kind of research.”

 I don’t think we should feel bad looking up other people’s salaries but it can certainly be awkward to ask people face to face. I like the idea of asking people for a range.

So after that first experience where Neda didn’t negotiate she was determined to try later on. Sometimes she backed down too quickly. Even though she was armed with information after her research, the process still wasn’t easy for her.

AM-T: “Now you said that you found negotiation pretty uncomfortable. You told me this in an email and you referred to it just now. How do you feel during a negotiation and do you remember how you tend to phrase things when you’re talking to the person on the other side?”

“I think in terms of how it feels, I had always wanted to very much be liked by everyone around me. And I think it’s served me well in some contexts. I’m a good worker, good colleague. And I was worried that if I was negotiating on behalf of myself I would be viewed as pushy or aggressive or it will make me less likeable. It will diminish their opinion of me. They would think I was demanding too much or that I was being too bold. And so that left me with a really queasy feeling throughout the entire process and it was kind of a constant nausea, like it never really left until the whole process was over.” 

That desire to be liked – it’s one of the biggest things that can trip women up in a negotiation. And we didn’t really address it in the last show. Many of us are still raised to be people pleasers, to put others’ interests before our own – to be happy with what we’ve got. And that can make negotiating feel somehow wrong. But as Natalie said in the last show, if we can just concentrate on our worth – on what we bring to the company or what we can bring to the new job – it helps to concentrate the mind.

Still, let’s not gloss over the fact that the likeability factor plays a big part in a lot of women’s dealings at work. Even if we don’t want it to.

And talking of likeability, the truth is other people – men and women – expect us to be likeable. A couple of years ago I interviewed Sara Laschever. She’s the co-author of two well known books on negotiation, Women Don’t Ask and Ask For It. The tape isn’t great quality so I’m not including a snippet, but in short she says men can be direct and businesslike in a negotiation and that’s fine. But for women that’s harder…she says women need to play up their likeability during a negotiation to get good results.

I talked about this with Natalie last time and she wasn’t so sure that was necessary. But for those of you who are interested, I’ll point you to more reading on this at the end of the show.  

Now Neda will admit she is not that direct in the first place. And she does get nervous. She’s noticed her voice has a slight tremor when she negotiates…

“I know that if I move my hands I can see they’re trembling a little bit, so I’ve learned to keep  my hands folded and in my lap so I don’t reveal that tell.”

AM-T: “Do you remember if you use the conditional tense like ‘I would’ or ‘if we’ – those kinds of things to soften things up?”

“In verbal, in speech, yes. So in the times it’s become a conversation I’d use the conditional with my words and tone of my voice. With writing it’s easier to be more declarative and state things in a very factual way. Because you have the benefit of being able to go back and revise and revise, and instead of saying ‘I would’ you can say ‘I will’ or ‘I can’ so I usually find, and actually maybe that’s a helpful thing for me in the future or for anyone else, is to practice writing it out ahead of time and see how you edit it to make it sound simpler and clearer and more declarative and then use some of that language. Because you have the benefit of going over it a few times while it’s written in front of you.”

Which actually strikes me as a really good idea. Any negotiation expert including Natalie Reynolds will tell you, you have to practice ahead of time to quell some of those nerves and prepare for the unexpected. Writing seems like a great way for some of us to work though the phrasing we’re gonna use in a live negotiation. And it’s true some negotiations do take place over email and you do have more of a chance to perfect your wording that way.

So when Neda did start negotiating for raises, how did it feel?

“Oh, awful. It felt awful. It already feels uncomfortable to ask for something more. It was already a situation that left me feeling a bit queasy before the return offer came…and then when return offer comes and says essentially, no, what you’re asking is way off. Even if it’s not what they mean, even if to them they’re just doing the dance, it made me feel like I had been way off assessing my own worth, and that the organization didn’t value me as much as I thought I should be valued. It was a pretty terrible feeling and then it also makes you feel what you tried to do with the negotiation just didn’t work out.”

 And it IS a dance, of course. They ARE testing you. You just have to remember to stay calm and not back down. There’s a lot more on how to do that in the last show.

So her current job, the one she just landed last year, it was something Neda really wanted. She loved the project, she admired the people. But…

“I was bringing with me a lot of baggage from my previous non-negotiations. So I remembered very clearly the times in the past when I had not advocated for myself and the times I had not negotiated for myself. And I think I felt a little bit sore because of that. Which I guess is something I guess to be mindful of, not to walk into a negotiation angry about past slights. Because your current employers don’t know anything about that and nor should they. But I knew I was carrying that baggage with me. And I wanted also to prove to myself that I could stand my ground or at least advocate for myself. So there was just a little bit of back and forth and in the end I got very close to what I ultimately asked for. What was so uncomfortable for me recently was I really, really liked the people I was working with, I really wanted this deal to work out, I very much felt invested in it emotionally…and speaking of wanting to be liked constantly, I really struggled with, well what if this makes them like me less at this very important juncture?”

But her quiet persistence didn’t hurt their opinion of her. She had time to reflect on it later.

“…as long as the negotiation is based on evidence and data and a collaborative sense of what you bring to the table and ways you can make your team, your boss, your company, your organization better with your particular skills I think you have a real leg to stand on. And I kept reminding myself of even when I felt that constant churning of nausea at requesting something after years of not doing so really.”

She felt she’d finally pulled it off, a successful negotiation.

“When you put all things together it was a huge win/win. I didn’t get quite everything that I asked for, but I felt what I got was extremely reasonable and appropriate and good.”

AM-T:  “It’s interesting, it sounds like – and you’ve become quite a strong advocate for negotiation – is through experience…or did someone sit you down one day and say look Neda, you need to be more pushy, you need to negotiate better? Or was it more from that realization that people around you were being pad more and your righteous indignation because of that?”

“It’s the latter. It’s out of a personal interest from the different experiences I’ve had. And I’ve also learned that even the most extraordinary mentors and sponsors and role models, we may be very fortunate and they may advocate for us in a number of ways, for promotions or opportunities that could help us. But I don’t know of anyone who has been sat down by their boss and told you’re not making enough, we need to advocate for a higher salary for you. And I think part of it is that we don’t talk about it enough, sometimes our managers may not know how much we’re making depending on the organization we’re working for. For all of us if we want to see that kind of growth in our careers and how we’re compensated for our work, no one is going to hand that raise to us on a silver platter. We will always have to be the ones aware of the situation, asking for that opportunity, negotiating on behalf of ourselves. Other people are not doing that for us.”

AM-T: “And I know that there will be a contingent of listeners who think – well, plenty of people will think – women, well nobody I suppose should have to negotiate, companies, organizations, should just pay us what we’re worth.”

“I think that sounds wonderful and there are industries and companies that are doing great work in that area, and I’m so excited for anyone who gets to work for an organization like that. I don’t always think it’s malice or mal intent if someone is underpaid for what they’re worth. I think sometimes it’s lack of knowledge, it’s benign cluelessness. But I think there are many instances when perhaps a person is not getting paid what they’re worth and it’s really up to that person to be aware of that situation and then they can decide for themselves how they feel advocating and negotiating on their own behalf.”

AM-T: “And also, I feel really strongly about this. I think negotiation is a human skill that comes in handy in so many different areas, not just this one area of asking for salary. And we should all be interested in improving that, me included.”

“I agree with you completely. It is sort of like a social skill or a business skill that not all of us are taught. And I believe research has shown that women are better at negotiating on behalf of someone else so if you and I were in a room together and you said, Neda, you need to advocate and negotiate for a raise for Ashley, I would be able to do that much more comfortably than I would if I had to do the same thing for myself. So maybe that’s another tool we can rely on. Let’s pretend we’re talking about a third person, who happens to be ourselves, and see what kind of language and emphasis and enthusiasm you would come up with if you were talking about yourself in the third person. If you were a friend of yours and you wanted to advocate for that third person.”

And maybe this doesn’t surprise a lot of you, this fact – and research does bear it out. After all,  women get the message early on that we’re meant to look out for others. So when it comes to negotiating for someone else…

“When we negotiate for them it doesn’t feel selfish. It feels like a natural extension of what we do all the time all day long.”

That word selfish. It goes to the crux of what we’ve talked about on and off over the years on this show. That so many women feel we don’t deserve things. Including money. My take on this is that we should work on overcoming those feelings.  

But some say if asking for money feels selfish to you, use that feeling in a negotiation by flipping it around.

A few years ago I interviewed a giant of negotiation training in the US. Her name is Margaret Neale or Maggie Neale, she teaches at Stanford – and she talked about this advice she gives women. She says if you’re someone who finds it hard to ask for money for yourself, go into that negotiation thinking of the other people in your life. Go in solid in the knowledge that money is going to help others – think about them when you ask – don’t talk about them, but have them in your mind as a motivator. And I think that’s fine if you have a family to support. If you’re single…maybe not so much. But apparently it’s a psychological trick that works well for women who need to focus on others to ask for something for themselves.

For the negotiation geeks among you, I am going to post a bunch of links under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com. I’ll link you to some of Maggie Neale’s videos on negotiation, I will link you to books and chapters of books that could help you. And to some stories I’ve done on this topic in the past.

Thanks to Neda Frayha for being my guest on this show and opening up about her negotiation experiences.

I’d love to know what you think of these two shows, and whether they’ve been helpful. You can email me at ashley at the broad experience dot com or tweet me or post on the show’s Facebook page.

Thanks as ever to those of you who support this one-woman show. To join them with any level of support hit up the support tab at TheBroadExperience.com.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time.