So you’ve reached a point where you’re ready to negotiate. Your pencils are sharp, your figures are set, and your finger is on the pulse. You just need to sleep on it and you are ready to go.
And then, you sleep on it. And somewhere in the middle of the night the voices of doubt slip in. When you wake up the next morning your reflection looks the same, but your find yourself questioning everything else—from your expertise, to your ability to negotiate, to your moral fiber.
We all hear the Voice of Self-Doubt
Out of nowhere comes a suddenly compelling realization, “My boss could easily replace me” or an equally convincing rationalization, “there’s a salary freeze right now, so there’s no point in asking for a raise.”
These voices have just about every angle covered, digging up, “I don't know how to negotiate,” or “They'll think I’m greedy if I ask for more.” Or the real kicker: "I should just accept. What if they rescind the offer?" These voices of self-doubt sound so convincing when we hear them.
The real problem with the voices of self-doubt is that they cause us to make the most damaging concessions. We end up negotiating against ourselves before a negotiation ever begins. Or worse yet — we decide not to negotiate at all.
Why the typical advice not to negotiate against yourself isn't enough
When corporate trainers tell you not to negotiate against yourself they are suggesting that you wait to make any concessions until after you've heard a counteroffer. This is great advice. But it fails to recognize that you might negotiate against yourself long before an offer or counteroffer is ever made. How? By succumbing to the voices of self-doubt who rear their heads telling you to ask for less as soon as you even consider asking for more.
In Ann Lamott’s book Bird By Bird she calls these voices of doubt the “inner critic” and she outlines a way to dispose of them in a cute and cathartic manner:
“Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in … anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away…”
While thinking of ways to dispense with these voices is clearly a lot of fun, it’s not necessarily practical or possible to eliminate these vermin with an imaginary mason jar. In fact, realizing that these voices are essentially beyond elimination is the first step to learning how to get around them.
Getting into your most powerful negotiating stance requires acknowledging that self-doubt is always going to be part of the process, but not letting it sap your negotiating energy. It’s how you respond to self-doubt that really matters.
First, you need to think about where the voices come from. Instead of seeing them as your enemy, perhaps you’ll understand them better if you imagine them as a well-meaning, but ridiculously cautious friend. You know, the kind that warns you never to travel abroad because you’ll catch a weird fever/have all your stuff stolen/die in a plane crash. These friends mean well, but boy are they Debbie-downers when it comes to living the dream or getting a raise.
Whereas negotiating with your boss relies on creating a real back and forth kind of conversation, the problem with negotiating with the voices of self-doubt is that they never listen to anything you have to say. So, it might be like trying to convince that same ludicrously protectively friend that taking a tuk-tuk in Thailand is a no-risk activity. The friend might pretend to listen but she’s never going to get in that tuk-tuk with you.
As Tara Mohr points out in Playing Big, Finding Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, “We never win arguments with our inner critics. When you spend any time arguing with the critic, the critic is 'winning' because while you are busy arguing with it, you are not doing your thing, putting your voice out there, risking failure to fulfill your aspirations, or nurturing your budding dreams.”
How to Succeed in Your Salary Negotiation Before an offer is ever made
So in dealing with these voices of self-doubt, my approach is threefold:
1) Notice the inner critic and remember that it's trying to protect you from failure, shame, and embarrassment. It just happens to be completely misguided.
2) Compassionately accept that the inner critic is there and it's not going away.
3) And most importantly: Decide not to take direction from the inner critic. Get in that tuk-tuk. Ask for that raise.
Don't negotiate with the inner critic because it's a negotiation you can't win. Remember: the inner critic will never collaborate or come to any kind of agreement with you, it doesn't know how. The only answer is to walk away from the conversation.
And then you can focus on getting ready for the real conversation. You know, the one where you ask for more.