Negotiating with Yourself

cheerful diverse women shaking hands after interview in studio

Are you negotiating with yourself?

It’s hard to ask for something from someone else. There’s often a fear of being told no. Or, damaging your reputation by asking for “too much.”

So, what’s the solution many people have created for this dilemma? Why, they negotiate with themselves first. They make the request small enough so anyone would say yes.

In my experience, Introverted Skeptics have this tendency to negotiate with themselves at work — scaling back their request, downsizing their demand — before they make their case for more. They may do this because they doubt senior leaders fully understand or appreciate them or their ideas — and navigating the back-and-forth evaluation and negotiation process feels arduous.

But what happens when you ask for less?

You Get Less

Which request is never granted? The one that’s not made. It’s a rare employer who will, for example, give you a 10% raise when you ask for 5%.

So, ask for 10% — and explain why it’s a legitimate and reasonable ask, why it’s justified, why it reflects the value you deliver. 

This is difficult to do when you equate your value as a person with the value of the work you do. They are not the same. If someone rejects the value you place on your work, that’s not a rejection of you. It’s simply a 5% disagreement over how to calculate the dollars-and-cents value of your professional contribution. Viewing it this way ensures this discussion doesn’t feel like an assault on your self-esteem. 

This, though, is relevant beyond an example of salary negotiation.

It’s asking for less because of what you believe others expect or want you to request. But what’s the value of what they think?

Building the case for what you expect or want is valuable to you. You are the one who matters when designing the ask. The other person is simply part of the response – and that’s separate from you. 

You Miss Out on Key Information

When you tell your boss or board what you want and make a case for it, rather than negotiating with yourself, you open the door to invaluable information. You learn what they think and what they value. 

You discover whether there’s a gap between your perceptions and theirs. If so, discover how big that gap is. If you believe there are holes in your argument, ask open ended questions of others to gather more insights. This is even better when you ask those who do not think like you! 

You also discover where your values and priorities align and where they don’t. Identify the obstacles to getting what you want – and whether there’s a path around them. As you make your request, listen deeply to what is being said and manage any defensiveness. Again, bring to mind that their questions and concerns are about the proposal and not about you personally.

Gathering key information can help you frame what you want for your next step and also your long-term plan. 

You Devalue What You Want

By negotiating with yourself, you erode the value of your contribution or insights. You do it by speculating, alone, in the dark, without essential data points that you could gather through a conversation.

Instead of a raise or promotion, let’s say you want funding to launch a new initiative in your department. You’ve assessed the need, created the plan, established the desired outcomes, and calculated the spend. Instead of presenting the proposal, however, you assume the budget request will be rejected. So you whittle away at it and present an anemic version that you believe (based on your arbitrary speculation) will get a green light. 

Be honest, do you recognize yourself in some version of this? By scaling back, you undercut your own objective and prevent others from fully understanding, contributing to, and embracing your vision and recognizing your strategic thinking. Of course, you want to be reasonable in your ask – and that’s what all the thinking and assessing was for. Now, you made a decision about what makes sense, so stand and represent the value of that. 

Standard negotiating techniques suggest that you should ask for a bit more than what you want to leave wiggle room. There are also advocates for recognizing which are the things you are okay to scale back and which are ‘must haves’ for you. These techniques allow you to negotiate with leverage and flexibility – while showing the value of those things most important to you.

Negotiating with yourself costs you an opportunity to build relationships with key stakeholders and advocates. Open, honest discussion strengthens understanding and empathy — and makes it easier to ask for what you want the next time. Do the research, understand the variable value of each point, ask for what you want (or a little more!), and get more of what you really want.

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