Improve Your Life, Part 2

I was going to write something fun this week to give you all a break. We’ve been examining some pretty heavy social issues lately, and I wanted to make you laugh.

But I just finished the book Ask for It, and in the chapter called The Likability Factor, authors Babcock and Laschever say that for all our efforts at becoming more assertive at the negotiating table, women have to take care not to offend.

Offend? I thought, are you sh#@ing me? Apparently, they are not.

Behavior that seems too aggressive typically doesn’t work for women and often backfires…We’re not just guessing here. Multiple studies have shown that using a “softer” style can improve a woman’s chances for success when she negotiates.

The authors didn’t want to believe it either, so they constructed their own study to see if it were really true, and they not only confirmed that men punish women for being too aggressive, but women do too.  To be fair, women on the power side of the table punished everybody for acting assertively, both men and women who pushed too hard for higher starting salaries, raises, or a cheaper price on that yard-sale sofa.

Good to know, huh? And right now you’re thinking, thank God the old peeps are dying off, because the younger women are much more egalitarian and fair in dealing with our own gender.

Wrong. 80% of the test subjects were under forty.

While you may think that this response to a woman being forthright and direct sounds outdated, research has shown that it is surprisingly current – even among men and women in their late teens and early twenties. The average age of people who participated in this study was twenty-nine, which means that it’s not just baby boomers who react negatively to women negotiating in an aggressive manner.

As disheartening as is this evidence of gender bias at the negotiating table, I’d rather be aware of it than not. At least now we know how to act. And it doesn’t have to remain this way.

…Using a sociable, friendly style may help you get more of what you want and deserve. It may help you rise into senior positions where you’ll have more influence over the culture of your organization, your profession, and perhaps even the larger business world. And then you can use your influence to make it more acceptable for women to ask for what they want in whatever way suits them.

The authors suggest we effect change ourselves. Have you ever criticized another woman for acting pushy or coming on too strong? Rather than roll your eyes at a her for behaving in a forceful way, say out loud, “That’s great that she’s going after what she wants.”  Little by little, we can change the outdated norms for how society wants women to behave.


  1. says

    I like your comment “My brain just titled.” There are so many inconsistencies in the way the sexes react to each other in the workplace. We’ve made a certain amount of progress over the years regarding sexual harrassment, but there’s a long way to go. Assertiveness awareness should be on the menu.

  2. says

    What a fascinating discussion you have going on here,Sis! I think there’s a big difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Interesting,some of the most ruthless bosses I’ve had have been females. They got the job done but not without leaving a bloody trail in their wake by bullying and intimidating(men can do that too but these happen to be women). The most effective ones empowered their staff to perform and valued their contributions. As far as playing in the “good old boy” network of corporate America, we need to present ourselves from a position of strength, command respect and not back down from being heard. I love your statement about “seeing things from a more powerful perspective.”- a conscious effort for a Baby Boomer to overcome societal expectations of women but I think our daughters are making some headway. Very provocative post,Lynne!

  3. says

    So true. I worked in the aerospace industry starting in the 1960s. And during that time I saw change, but definitely not enough. Even though women are in the majority population-wise, they don’t come close to the majority on corporate organization charts. And we are part of the problem. Because the plum jobs for women are so few, we play musical chairs to get them – always fighting to get to the available seat. We need to mentor and be nice to our women colleagues and learn how to play on a team as the men so aptly learned as young boys.

    • says

      Yes, yes, yes! And one of the ways we can do that is to begin to tell ourselves to lift our sights higher! One day recently I was asked to speak to a group without preparation or warning. Yikes! But I did it, and I hit it out of the ballpark. One reason: the woman who spoke before me was a funny, strong broad who made me feel strong by association. I was empowered by her strength! Instead of being fake-embarrassed to take the reins, I felt proud to stand up alone in that setting. We’re so afraid of making each other feel bad. I used to golf that way, too – if another couple joined us and the woman wasn’t very good, I dropped my game to make her feel less like the odd man out. Now I play as if to lift her up! We just need to see things from a more powerful perspective.

  4. ziggityboomer says

    Are the writers still emphasizing the external as the force to shape behavior? I admire women who strive for what they need, whether it’s a promotion, a mortgage or respect, and don’t give attention to negative words used to describe how they got there. Is the authors’ advice much different than how we were taught to behave in the 50s? 60s? Until we women respect ourselves enough to respect others for ambition, we will continue to raise new generations of women who think it is easier to suppress others rather than advance ourselves. I hope I live long enough to see some tidal changes.

    • says

      I think women react as other minorities historicall have in order to move up—Tactfully, when needed and fist raising when needed (a la the very recent assault on our bodies’ civil rights). There is no one way. I have learned this over time and it’s ok if other women don’t think this way.
      All women are not the same.
      funny, Whoopi on today’s ‘The View’ said something similiar about African Americans-they all aren’t the same, either.

      • says

        Yep, Marla I agree, we’re not all the same, but whatever tactics a person is comfortable choosing, they must choose something, and they won’t unless they see the need. So I appreciated these writers for making us aware of it. Again.

    • says

      Zig, I think they were saying it’s a bummer that we’re all still like that, but that we should at least play the game long enough to get up to the C-suite and then act differently, effecting change from the top. And yes, a total bummer that in 40 years we haven’t moved all that goldarn much!!!

  5. Peggy says

    I hear you… I know that both men and women criticizing strong women in meetings is the norm, but in this case (or environment) if the men were offended or didn’t like it, they were silent…at least to my face. My boss was livid and actually invited me into her office for a LOUD lecture and some of the other female managers, my peers, came into my office and told me I behave too aggressively. My ex-team mate, Mark, said he didn’t understand why these women were so upset and chalked it up to feeling threatened. I have had men in the past become unsettled when I stood strong in a meeting, but not at Great Western Bank for some reason. Maybe particular corporate culture has something to do with how strong women are received at a negotiation table? I don’t know. What was interesting, Mark (the guy I’m talking about) and I JUST had this exchange maybe an hour before you posted this blog. Interesting timing, eh?

  6. Peggy says

    Thank you, Lynn. Funny thing, this very thing just surfaced in my life. Someone who used to report to me, a man, contacted me. Been trying to find me for awhile, I guess. Good guy. We started talking about the “old days” when I was a manager over the tech writing and course design group of a huge organization, the now defunct Great Western Bank. He was a tech writer on one of my teams. He noticed that whenever I demonstrated strength, it was the women who objected. My boss, in particular, called me on the carpet for “negotiating too forcefully” when we were in business meetings with men…who did not seem to mind my style at all! Interesting.

    • says

      Peggy, in their research they found that both men and women punished assertive women, so your experience is outside the norm. Best advice? Smile! (I was going to say kiss ass but it looked kind of crude.)

  7. says

    I will react negatively to anyone , male or female, who is too pushy and expect anyone I am too agressive with to react in kind. Negotiating implies the opposite of pushing. That is why it is called NEGOTIATING instead of arguing.

    • says

      Judy it wasn’t pushing or rude behavior. Just assertive. But I get your point. According to the research, if men negotiated assertively with each other, both sides liked it. If women negotiated assertively with either gender, though, they were seen as pushy and icky. Okay, my brain just tilted…

      • Peggy says

        Judy…I understand what you mean. Who wants to work with anyone who is rude? But, when I was “strong” what I meant was I was neither pushy nor rude (in fact, respectful), but I held my ground and spoke my truth and didn’t cower when males or senior managers attempted to talk over me, or bulldoze me. That’s not rude. When men make their business points with strength and decisiveness, and sometimes even with open hostility, it’s perceived as “okay” in a corporate setting, but a woman who makes her point with strength and conviction is often (sadly) considered a shreaking, emotional bitch, a virago, by both genders even when her behavior is appropriate and professional.

  8. says

    It never ceases to amaze me how long it takes for certain notions to fade away. I’d have thought the younger peeps would have been more accepting of assertiveness without b&%@$iness, but no — indeed, they might even more more judgmental. Very enlightening post, Sistah!

    • says

      Thanks, Sis! I don’t think this topic is going to go away. I just bought a new book on a related subject. The authors did research and found enough alarming info to write this: “In the Company of Women; Indirect Aggression Among Women – Why We Hurt Each Other and How To Stop”. (Holy crap!)

  9. says

    Until women negotiate at the rates men do, this will remain true simply because we are the minority. African Americans have the same challenges. I suspect anyone who isn’t white male does–just the way it is and what I tell my 3 daughters…”Be creative in your approach”….
    Yep, we do have to try harder….I don’t believe this always will be this way but I’ll probably be long gone before it shifts.
    I have been a B-a big one when I’m not heard-it hasn’t helped much. I just had a dialogue yesterday -perhaps while Lynne was creating this post-:)–with my Ex. FINALLY, I outfoxed him by doing exactly what he did not expect: I was not a B–he couldn’t say “there you go again…”
    And when he couldn’t default to that and then retreat into his ‘righteous indignation’-a lifelong pattern with me/us- he had to listen. And he didn’t like listening but the B remained quiet so he had no choice. The conversation involved $$ he owes me so I’m really glad that it didn’t go south like it does whenever the B comes out and forces him to retreat cuz he’s so scared….poor thing, we don’t want that now do we???
    Thanks Lynne for the chance to add my 2 cents! You’re the BEST!

    • says

      Thank YOU, Marla, for a real-life testimonial. You remind us that we humans have a gift: the ability to feel one thing but project something else. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve benefited from hiding my true feelings, and it amazes me that I can. Being a capable actress is yet another skill that improves with maturity. Also as we mature we finally come to understand there’s usually a cost associated with letting loose. Being able to control those costs = power.

  10. says

    Hooray for your response to this. Unfortunately we have all been socialized to think that an aggressive woman is a b@&ch. As ridiculous as that is, it is taking longer than we all want for this to change. Women have to affect change themselves and that means working within the norms to get to positions of power where they can affect change. We definitely need to move forward with the way women are treated in our society, not backwards.

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