Confidence: Don’t wait for it to negotiate

women who ask

A friend of mine went skydiving recently despite having an intense fear of heights. "How did you get the confidence to do it?" I asked. "You kind of find it on the way down," she said.

Indeed. We encounter confidence in the midst of doing something scary, or in its aftermath. And that’s a good thing. If we waited for confidence to act, when would we ever take any risks?  

When it comes to negotiation, there’s a myth that you need confidence before you even start the process. Or that only confident people are able to ask for more. Neither of those are true. Here's why.

Confidence Comes Later

Clients often tell me they don’t feel ready to negotiate because they don’t feel confident. When we’ve exhausted the healthy list of other reasons why they are not ready to negotiate, we are usually left with this one.

Confidence. It's the elusive magic formula we’re waiting for before we can take action.

So what is confidence, exactly? “A feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities,” says Webster's. While we might get this feeling upon completing a New York Times crossword or finishing a marathon, it’s not usually the first feeling we have about ourselves when we wake up in the morning.  

Here’s the thing. We don’t need to wait for this feeling of “self-assurance” to take action. If we wait for confidence, it’s just one more thing we have to do—one more way we have to change ourselves, before we do what we really want to do. If we hold out for the perfect moment to do something, it translates into doing nothing.

Besides, if we all waited for confidence, we'd have fewer women who decided to become mothers, a scarcity of best-selling novels on the shelves, and a devastating lack of female presidents … (okay, scratch that last one). We take actions—pick a college, take a job, have kids —without having total confidence in our decisions all the time.

The same can be said for negotiation.

We don’t need to wait for confidence in order to ask for a raise or negotiate a job offer.

We can hear the voice of self-doubt telling us that we’re not ready to ask for a raise, that we didn’t do enough to deserve a raise, or that we didn’t check all of the boxes . . . and then we can still negotiate anyway! 

Taking action doesn’t override our self-doubt or the paralyzing nature of waiting for confidence to arrive, it produces results that lead directly to building confidence. It’s like that moment when you learned to ride a bike. You have to be brave before the confidence comes. 

Feel the Negotiation Fear and Ask Anyway

Here are some simple steps to prepare yourself mentally to negotiate your salary:

1.    Notice the inner critic and don’t take direction from it.

2.    Decide that you don’t have to wait for self-doubt to go away before you negotiate.

3.    Take direction from your voice of reason. This is the voice that tells you:

  • Do the research - find out what men in the same roles are making. What’s the range?
  • Determine where you fit within the range given your unique experience and skills. Talk yourself up like only a proud mother could and gather your list of results and accomplishments. Identify the highest salary that you could possibly defend.  
  • Talk to people in your network (HR people, recruiters, current and former bosses, high performers in the same role). Find out if what you’re pinpointing is on target.

Give Yourself the Courage to Ask For More

We often have the desire to do something and the tools to do it, but we still hold back. We tell ourselves that we’re waiting for the right moment, or the perfect time. But waiting for confidence is like waiting for your body to adjust to the water before you’ve even jumped in the pool. Yes, the water is cold, and, yes, you might have to take some short sharp breaths to get your body in line with your brain, but if you don’t jump in then you’ll never get to experience the pure pleasure of taking the plunge.

It's a virtuous cycle. Be brave. Ask for more. Prove to yourself that you deserve more. Gain more confidence. Repeat. By being brave and taking action instead of waiting around for confidence to arrive, we can prove to ourselves that we deserve more and give ourselves the courage to ask for more.