This article was originally published by Forbes as an "editors pick".
A client recently reached out to tell me she was “in a pickle.” She’d gotten a job offer with a salary that was 43% more than she’d made in her last position and she felt torn about whether or not to negotiate for more. She texted me, “My gut says NEGOTIATE and make Lelia proud, but my head says the salary is awesome and appropriate.”
This kind of “pickle” comes up often for my clients. There’s a tension between being happy with the offer and the feeling that they “should” negotiate.
In this particular client’s situation, she was very conscious of the wage gap and gender dynamics in the workplace. As she worked through her feelings, she realized she felt a responsibility to negotiate. Even though this was a fantastic salary offer, campaigns telling her to “lean in” and “#ask4more” made her feel guilt and self-doubt about accepting the role as offered. These well-intentioned campaigns can make women feel like gender bias and ending the wage gap are their responsibility to fix, when they’re actually systemic problems we have to navigate.
Instead of telling everyone they should #ask4more, here’s what I propose: Do the important self-reflection about your own priorities, and if you choose to, negotiate in a way that feels authentic and comfortable to you. (Admittedly, this doesn’t make a very good hashtag.)
It’s not just employees that have the feels when it comes to workplace negotiations. Former Merrill Lynch CEO and current Ellevest CEO and Co-Founder Sallie Krawcheck describes her own discomfort on the other side of the negotiation table and her fears about damaging relationships. In her book Own It, she writes, “I hate making job offers; even after all these years and all the job offers I’ve made, I still have an almost physical aversion to doing it, for the fear that the other person will “get mad” at me that the compensation isn’t generous enough. I know...seriously, right?”
You could almost feel Krawcheck rolling her eyes in frustration with herself at her reticence to make job offers, but she’s recognizing the discomfort as it comes up. Even if it’s unpleasant, you can stay grounded in your own emotions and priorities.
In practice, there are no easy answers when it comes to negotiating workplace dynamics as a woman, so try not to “should” yourself about how you feel about negotiation. Few words in the English language bother me as much as the word “should.”
Whether women are feeling guilt about deciding not to negotiate a new position, fear about damaging the relationship, or anger at not getting selected for a big project, a lot of the work surrounding negotiation is on how to recognize and work through the emotions that come up rather than trying to push them away.
Psychologist Tim Kershenstine says, “When we name and observe our emotions instead of shunning them, we have the opportunity to learn about ourselves and make more informed decisions on how we truly want to proceed. Therefore, learning how to feel our emotions and learn from them is an empowering exercise, albeit at times temporarily uncomfortable.”
You may go through a wide range of emotions or experience seemingly contradictory emotions simultaneously. Some days, I can wake up shout singing Kesha’s “Warrior” and hours later feel disillusioned, like I’m trying to boil the ocean. For me, what’s most challenging is giving myself permission to cry or be present with that discomfort rather than “should”-ing myself about the feels I think I should be having.
In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, she paraphrases Arianna Huffington’s advice on dealing with criticism: “We should let ourselves react emotionally and feel whatever anger or sadness being criticized evokes for us. And then we should quickly move on. [Huffington] points to children as her role model. A child can cry one moment and run off to play the next. Experience emotions with the intensity of a child.”
Maybe you have all the feels and your emotions vary wildly over the course of a day, or even a single hour. As Kershenstine told me, “Emotions, like waves in the ocean, will be there and continuously change. Learn to surf the waves of emotions, as opposed to the futile effort to control or change them.”
However you’re feeling, I encourage you to be present with what’s coming up and to be gentle with yourself. We label some emotions “negative” or “bad”, which can make us want to avoid them. Instead, without judgment, you can practice saying, “I am just going to name that this emotion is what I’m feeling right now. I’m [angry/sad/scared].” Those feelings coming up aren’t an indication that what you have done is wrong, that you screwed up, or that you’ll feel that way forever.
In Difficult Conversations, the authors write, “It doesn’t matter if your feelings are reasonable or rational. What matters is that they’re there.” They go on to write, “Feelings are too powerful to remain peacefully bottled. They will be heard one way or another, whether in leaks or bursts.” The goal should be to recognize and acknowledge them, letting them leak out as they happen, rather than letting them burst out unexpectedly, soaking everyone with All. The. Feels. in the midst of the negotiation.