How many times have you thought you were negotiating with someone but were actually having a monologue with yourself?
It happens all the time. Take the case of Priya, who was meeting with her boss to negotiate her job responsibilities, a promotion, a change in title, and a raise:
Priya looked at herself in the mirror of the ladies’ room and adjusted her jacket, smoothed her skirt, and ran her fingers through her hair.
“You can do this,” she said to herself.
But the look on her face was more doubtful than the command in her head. Priya nodded at herself and turned to walk down the hall to her boss’s office. It was time for her annual performance review, and Priya planned to negotiate her job position and salary.
Priya had been at her job for 18 months. Her performance was above average, she reasoned, and she had fulfilled her responsibilities well. She also hadn’t heard any negative feedback, so she assumed she was well-positioned for advancement.
As she sat in the chair opposite his desk, she listened as her boss began to give her feedback. Priya wasn’t listening fully to his words because she couldn’t stop analyzing his facial expressions and body language. She started to feel overcome by doubt and lost confidence in what she wanted to say and how much she wanted to advocate for herself.
If this was how he felt about her work, then there was no way she’d be able to convince him otherwise. The script in her head went from “You can do this” to “Oh no, I have so far to go.”
Priya was in her head and having a full-blown conversation with herself. How much of what her boss said did she even hear?
This wasn’t a true negotiation of performance between the two parties because Priya and her boss were having parallel monologues.
Where do our inner monologues come from?
Where does this type of self-talk come from to begin with?
The world we live in carries many stories that are communicated to us throughout our lives. From our families to our schools, communities, and society at large, these stories shape who we are.
Many of these stories are based on ideas about who we should be because of our gender. Women should do “this” because “this” is what women do. Think about the messages you received growing up about being a woman. How have they shaped how you interact with others in the world around you?
The story of perfectionism
Going back to the monologue in Priya’s head and her experience in her boss’s office, perhaps Priya was immersed in the story of perfection—wanting to get it right—rather than being attuned to what her boss was saying. Instead of listening to understand and questioning her boss’s comments, she fell into self-criticism.
Priya was so clouded over with self-judgment, the old story of “you’re not good enough, not experienced enough, and nowhere near perfect” consumed her attention.
Unfortunately, perfectionism comes from cultural influences about the way girls (and then women) should behave, especially the notion of women as nurturing types who take care of others. The story is that if we are to be good girls and women, we advocate for others and not for ourselves; otherwise, we’ll be considered selfish, and that’s not who we want to be, is it?
Societies set the moral high ground
As women, we take in the many stories that exist in the social world around us about how we should behave, what we should say, and how we should say it. These stories then influence and shape our beliefs and behavior.
We receive feedback from the world that tells us whether we’re living in alignment with the dominant cultural stories—or if we’re not. In turn, we also affect the world around us by our compliance: are we going along as expected, or are we making waves in an otherwise orderly system? The stronger the cultural system, the less of an impact we make in upsetting the well-crafted status quo of what should be.
Shaping our negotiations
Though we carry society’s stories with us, we do have the agency to influence what happens in our negotiations. We can guide our own journey in this life so that we get more of what we need in our interactions with others. At the same time, we’re making the social worlds within which we live. So, while we’re making the world a better place for ourselves, we need to make it better for others at the same time.
This is what it means to be in a relationship with others in negotiation.
This process creates the fertile ground for our next negotiation and defines what our relationship will be like going forward. Negotiation is not only about the outcome but also the process we take in getting to that outcome.
You’ve probably experienced this already. If someone comes to us to negotiate competitively and beats us down to get everything they want, they’re expressing what they’ve learned and experienced in other negotiations.
If we enter into a negotiation with a competitive mindset, there’s going to be a winner and a loser. On the other hand, if we enter into a negotiation with the intention of collaborating with the other party, there’s a better chance that everyone will work together. The process determines the outcome.
The effects of the negotiation live on in us, in the other person, and in the world around us because those effects influence what we think, say, and do in all of our interactions that follow. So even when we’re having a seemingly different negotiation with a different person about different issues, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are as negotiators cause us to bring every past negotiation into the next one.
As you reflect on your recent negotiations with others, ask yourself:
How have these negotiations shaped your interactions with other people?
How has society influenced how you negotiate as a woman?
What are the stories you’re telling yourself during these negotiations? Where did they come from?
Which stories are helpful? And which get in the way of you being more confident or successful?
Written by Beth Fisher-Yoshida.
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