Improve Your Life with One Simple Tactic

money-coinsThe male of our species seems to spring from the womb ready to negotiate everything. This tendency not only increases the wage and pension gap between men and women by the end of life, but it also adds to men’s sense of empowerment and control in their world. Women don’t ask, and as a direct result they get less. Exponentially less.

Why do we fail to ask?

Because we have this little voice inside of us, clucking and frowning. According to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, who wrote Ask for It, we need to ignore that voice because:

The little voice inside telling you not to do it (don’t rock the boat, don’t get pushy, why can’t you be happy with what you have?) isn’t your voice. It’s the voice of a society that’s still trying to tell women how to behave. It’s a voice whose message is conveyed, often unwittingly, by our parents, teachers, colleagues, and friends – and then repeated and amplified by the media and popular culture.

Ask For It

The authors present numerous examples of the unintentional, unconscious, and overwhelming bias society applies to women.

Female musicians applying for a job with an orchestra were 250% more likely to be selected if they auditioned behind a screen.

I know what you’re thinking. “I’m fine,” you say. “I don’t deny that it exists. It’s just that I personally have never suffered from discrimination.” However,

Social psychologist Faye Crosby calls this ‘the denial of personal disadvantage’ in which members of a particular group recognize that other members of the group have suffered but believe that they themselves have escaped it.

This bias without malice starts early. In a study, school children were asked to perform a small task and then pay themselves what they thought they deserved. (First graders were asked to award themselves Hershey’s Kisses.)

In first, fourth, seventh and tenth grades, girls consistently paid themselves 30% – 78% less than boys.

It adds up – or I should say down. According to the latest US Census, women still earn less than men in every categoryBut there’s a simple way to overcome this ingrained self-doubt, self-effacement, and self-denigration: ASK. Simply pause before you agree to anything, and ask for something to sweeten the deal. Why not? What are we afraid of? All they can say is no, and then you’re where you were before the ask. However, you might be pleasantly surprised.

I bought some furniture a couple days ago. The salesman tallied up the price, ending with “and delivery is $149.” I looked at him and said, “Do you have any flexibility on that?” Without hesitation he knocked it down to $100. I saved fifty bucks with seven words! Men do this all the time. Per study after study, women don’t. The authors found “clear and consistent evidence that men initiate negotiations to advance their own interests about four times as often as women do.”

If you’re unhappy with something in your life, assume it can be changed.  How many of us assume the opposite, sigh, and keep plugging? This book includes many, many practical tools for learning to ask (as well as tons of examples and anecdotes, which made it fun reading.) In Chapter 10, for example, the authors describe “cooperative” bargaining (It’s also called collaborative, or interest based, or win/win bargaining). It is more effective and comfortable than the traditional stony-eyed, fist-pounding version you might envision. Also – bonus! – this strategy is more natural to women. In fact, you probably use it every day with your kids, partner, and coworkers.

Now, here are some great tips taken from the book:

  • Women specialize in waiting until they can’t take it anymore and then blow up. Better to “assemble documentation, showing how you’ve increased the value, identify the best time to approach the boss, and make your case in a calm and businesslike way.”
  • Doing it sooner rather than later makes a negotiation easier. “The brain imposes costs when we worry about something, and the longer we worry, the higher the cost. The sooner you ask for something you want, the better the negotiation itself will feel.”

I hope this post has been helpful. Let me know if you scored in a negotiation, or if you have a tip or strategy to share. We can learn from each other!


  1. says

    Hi, Lynne. Asking for something you want is amazingly powerful. Two of my best-ever professional projects came to me because I asked. In my personal life I also feel free to ask, but we mostly split work by interest and ability. I’m happy to cook delicious, healthful meals which my partner and I enjoy. He’s not a cook, but he brings me coffee every morning, is my personal IT guy, makes sure my car gets to the shop for routine maintenance, and other useful chores.

  2. says

    Great post, Lynne. The behaviors that have been inculcated in us for eons (being supportive, empathetic, nurturing) can be showstoppers when it comes to manifesting our vision for our lives. We get to realize that we can be the best of those and still stand for what we believe we deserve.

  3. says

    Another excellent post ,Lynne! I learned the hard way after years of working in the “good old boy” network where the societal standard was that women had to work harder to get recognized, compensated and valued. The good news is that my daughter has learned much sooner how to identify what she needs and negotiate her way through the system. That’s the beauty of age, I finally figured it out. Thanks for striking another chord for “women of a certain age.” You rock, Lynne! :-)

  4. says

    Lynne…these statistics are outrageous! I can’t believe that women are still second class citizens even in America. Thanks for enlightening me and also reminding me that it is never to late to ask. Like most women, even as feisty as I am, I was raised to accept less than and find it difficult to ask until I blow and of course I am sure it takes a toll on my health.

    • says

      Pat, when I look at my 18-month-old granddaughter I wonder, where is it that she will begin to pick up this message that will have her believing, by FIRST GRADE, that she is worth 30-70% less than the boys? I am damn sure going to watch out for that. We all MUST.

  5. says

    Great suggestions as usual, Lynne. Recently I had the opportunity to speak up at work and not wait. I got positive results. It seems to get easier as I get older.

    • says

      Ann, I believe most things SHOULD get easier as we get older. I can imagine you thinking, Darn it, I’m to old for this. Or maybe imagining how in the past you might have let it go, preferring not to rock the boat, but this time, NOT. Or maybe you had the benefit of the savoir faire that comes with maturity…i.e. having lived longer, we know how to make the point in a graceful but unyielding way. In any case, congratulations.

  6. says

    Hey, Laura and Peggy, I did a post a few months ago about not being perfectionists, and I chalenged myself to misspel things and not fix them as a way of shaking off the fear of not bein perfek so dont swet it got it??

  7. says

    Great post, Lynne. As a former counselor who specialized in women’s issues, I consistently saw women who had been socialized to believe that they should receive less and that it was inappropriate for a woman to ask for more. It has changes a lot since I was a young woman, but we still have a long was to go. And, if someone tells you know, move on to someone who says yes.

  8. Peggy says

    Sorry…I guess I should learn to spell your name. Lynne NOT Lynn. In retaliation you may spellmy name Peggie if you want. LOL

  9. says

    Lynne, what an outstanding post and review — should be printed out for future reference! I, too, struggle with asking for what I know I should charge in my business. Oddly, with male clients, I don’t have that problem (they pay whatever I ask); women always seem to think they can get the work done cheaper elsewhere. And when women do ask for what they’re worth, they’re seen as b@*%&es, rather than assertive, probably because they have such little practice with it and because they wait until the “last minute” to ask!

  10. says

    I put 24 hours between a request for quote and quoting a job. During those 24 hours I argue with me about how much I’m worth. It is not about me; it’s as you say, Lynne, about our training. I have asked professional counseling friends for years to start an Unboot Camp for women – to untrain us from society’s suppression. Maybe one day.

  11. says

    I was very young when I married. My husband is 5 years older than I am and he is the youngest with two sisters, a mother and a grandmother that raised him. I never factored in what that might mean for me. Years after we married and had 4 children I drew the line in the sand. Oh I still loved him but I asked him to make me feel like we were a “team.” I asked him to be responsible for filling the ice-trays (pre-icemaker days), make the coffe and the bed every morning. Small requests but suddenly I felt we were a team. I wondered why I waited a dozen years to wake up and realize I needed to spell out my requests. Yes, I was one of those women who waited until I could not take something anymore and then blew up. I ask and negotiate much better at age 65 than I did at 20.

    • says

      Barbara, isn’t it weird how we – speaking for myself – put limits on ourselves? We have this notion that we’re responsible for those jobs, but then we rebel and, strangely, the sun keeps coming up every morning. Then we wonder why we didn’t rebel sooner. Thanks for the reminder.

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