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Powerful Insights 

Articles, interviews, inspiration, and tools to help you balance your power with purpose

Know your core values to build confidence in your next negotiation

employee negotiation Oct 15, 2021
Joanne is shown smiling and displaying with her arms text that reads:

The last time I willingly hosted a homemade holiday dinner was about 3 years ago. I remember my in-laws arriving just as I was getting into the shower - yelling at my family to get the door and welcome everyone in. I remember stripping off my damp clothes - soaked from all of the rushed last-minute tasks I had been doing since 5am - and thinking I would be perfectly happy to flop into bed and sleep the evening away. No such luck.

I got out of the shower just as the oven started beeping - the potatoes needed to come out, and it was me (and only me) who knew the specific sequence of steps necessary to create the perfect family dinner. Barely dry, I put on fresh clothes, which stuck uncomfortably to my still-wet skin, and returned to the kitchen. I put out the appetizers, served the drinks, and then it was time to get the steaks going.

Since it was -35 Celsius outside, I opted to cook our steaks in the oven, and finish them in a cast iron pan on top of the stove. I don't have a proper range hood, and so after the first few steaks, the smoke alarm was wailing and everyone was positioned at a window or door, frantically waving a kitchen towel , trying to disperse the wall of smoke that I had created. I had tears running down my cheeks while I seared the remaining steaks and tried not to let anyone see my face or my shuddering shoulders. We ate our dinner wearing our coats and gloves. I was still damp. Chilled to the bone. Streams of dry tears frozen on my face. 

After dinner, my wonderful father-in-law refilled my wine glass, looked at me with loving eyes, and declared that this would be the last time I would have to make the family a holiday dinner. Next time we'd just go out. Going out would ensure that I could enjoy my family's company without the unrealistic pressures of creating the unattainable - the perfect holiday event.

While he appreciated my effort, he appreciated my presence more.

I will be eternally grateful for his kindness and wisdom that day (and I'd give my right arm to enjoy another glass of wine with him while we solve the world's problems to the sounds of Leonard Cohen crooning in the background). But I'll be honest, it hasn't always been easy to feel good about going out for dinner instead of recreating a holiday movie dinner scene in my home.

Women are often conditioned to strive for perfection - at home, and in the workplace

So much of what I beat myself up about has nothing to do with what actual people in my life ask of me. I've realized that it's the conversations I have with my own mind that are the culprit in so many situations where I am striving for perfection.

I'm not saying the world is without blame. The social structures we grow up within teach us our "proper roles" as women in society. There is most definitely a pressure exerted by the world - and by women shaming one another - to be a perfect mother, partner, friend, daughter, daughter-in-law, etc. And that extends into the workplace. We grow up knowing that perfection is the goal; if that's the case at home, then we also assume it's the case at work.

As a woman in business, ask yourself - what does success mean to me?

The world doesn't fall apart if you don't vacuum before your friends come over. You won't get fired if you just do a good job, instead of an exceptional job. I promise.

So why do we feel guilty when we fail to achieve perfection? More importantly, what can we do about it?

In my one-on-one and group work with clients, we talk a lot about the stories we tell ourselves - and how they hold us back from negotiating and asking for what we want and deserve. (Did you know that 60% of women will never negotiate a job offer in their lives?) These are often stories laden with a word that evokes obligation and guilt: should. When we tell ourselves we should or shouldn't do or feel something, we impose unnecessary emotional burdens on ourselves. We attach significance to insignificant things, and often fail to see the importance of the outcomes that we are trying to achieve. 

Negotiation helps you protect your values

We experience this in the workplace and we experience it at home. The good news? By focusing on your values, you can obtain clarity about what really matters most. And you can cut the guilt.

As women, we need to understand what drives us - the values that help us feel like we are being authentic to ourselves. However, we are socialized to be selfless, with the assumption that selfishness is the only alternative. The truth is, we don't need to be selfless or selfish. What's wrong with self-respecting? 

Too often, we focus on the community benefits of our negotiations. If we are on vacation and negotiate with a hotel desk clerk for a better room, we motivate ourselves by knowing our family will be closer to the pool or have a beautiful ocean view. But if we are by ourselves, we struggle to ask for that same upgraded room. We find it hard to both articulate what is important to ourselves, and why it is good for us - because we are taught that we shouldn't be selfish. But feeding our self-respect allows us to be better in every aspect of our lives. Recognizing our needs and meeting them is not selfish. It's basic personal care. 

It is important for us to break this cycle - especially when it comes to negotiation. You deserve to be motivated by the impacts that your new salary and benefits will have on you. The community or family benefits are great - and can serve as motivation if you just can't be motivated to advance your own needs - but don't shy away from declaring your personal values and what you hope to experience as a result of your negotiation. 

For example, when holidays roll around, I still have to fight the feelings of guilt that rise up because I see society telling me that I should host a perfect holiday event. In my mind, if I do all of those things, then I will be perfect. My family will love me more. They will appreciate me. They will recognize my importance.

But when I dig a little, past my need to be loved, I can say that hosting a family dinner aligns to how much I value connection. I care about holiday dinners because they are an opportunity where family and friends can relax, reconnect, and have great conversations. They feed that little girl in me who thrived on the experience of sitting around and seeing the grownups in my circle having deep and meaningful discussions. I loved those moments - because the chaos of life stopped and everyone was just present for one another.

Ironic, I know. I'm seeking a respite from the chaos of life, and do so by creating more chaos for myself. Whoa. I also want to note that nowhere in the description of what I value is a picture of a clean house, a perfect meal, an instagram-worthy event.

There are parallels to this experience at work. If I'm asked to take on yet another "important" task by my boss (because I always say yes), my first instinct is to feel like I should agree. Maybe I should even feel grateful that my boss keeps coming to me. I should feel proud that they trust me. At the same time, I might be burning out because of all of things I said yes to, thinking I should, but not negotiating what I need to be successful, and in alignment with my values and my career aspirations. Remember, a negotiation is not always about salary or vacation time. 

Determine your values to understand what you want in your career

So much of the pressure we put on ourselves comes from the stories we tell ourselves. But by refocusing on your values, you can often separate what you should do from the most important things that need to happen to satisfy your values.

At home, this looks like getting the house cleaned by a service and ordering in - or just going out for a nice meal and enjoying ourselves. At work, this means identifying that to align with your values, taking on another project means you need to ask for more resources or eliminate other responsibilities from your shoulders. It translates to shifting from doing low-value tasks too focusing on high-value outcomes.

Thinking about those benefits and what they will mean for your life, will help you to ground your negotiation in your values.

Often, women can be persuaded to take lower offers or not negotiate at all because they are too focused on what the benefit is, rather than why it's important. When you aren't clear on the why, it's easier to be blown off course. 

For example, if your values are tied to your ability to spend quality time with your friends and family, you might prioritize a higher salary (eg. so you can order out more often and spend less time cooking and grocery shopping) or flexibility (so you can be home to get the kids off to school in the morning). If the offer comes in with an expectation that you travel across the country at least once per month, even if the salary is competitive, you will need to consider how that expectation aligns to your values. If you hadn't considered what outcomes you wanted to achieve through the negotiation in advance, you might be tempted to say yes to the higher salary - but later feel resentful about all the travel. 

Always do the work to understand your why when you into a negotiation. This will help you to continue pushing for the benefits that matter to you. But it will also give you a framework to consider the other party's offer. 

Understanding your values is the first step toward convincing the voice in your head that should doesn't matter. It's the first step toward setting and reinforcing boundaries, and the first step toward negotiating regularly for what you want and need to be successful - in work and in life.

How to determine your core values

Here's an exercise to try, which will help you start thinking about your core values. Think about three people you admire - these can be people from your personal life, work, or both. Write about them, explore makes them special, and define the characteristics that you admire.

What do those characteristics tell you about yourself and who you are at your core?

Journal Prompts:

  1. The next time you negotiate for a new role, what will you look for in the negotiation? Salary, pension, key benefits, vacation, flexibility, a great office, professional development support, etc. Thinking about your current or last role as a starting point, make a list of everything that you would want to see in your next role. If you want to get creative, write long form about what it will be like working there; talk about everything from the colour of the carpet to the kinds of colleagues you work with. 
  2. What would change for you as a result of those benefits? Would you have more time, money, learning, comfort? How would your life be different - what specifically would you do with those additional benefits? For example, would you save the extra money for travel, invest in regular massages, buy more books, take your kids on regular lunch dates? List out everything that you would do - including at least 5 things that would change for you alone. 
  3. Why is this important? What purpose would these changes serve for you? Take a look at Brene Brown's list of values if you need some inspiration. Jot down every one that resonates with you. Then go through your list to pick out your top 6. 

Want to learn how you can bring your core values into your next negotiation?

My Strategic Salary Negotiation course helps women tune in to what they want from their next job offer, and will provide you with the tools and strategies to negotiate with confidence.

If you are interested in growing your negotiation skills, sign up below to get my weekly newsletter, which features information, education, and learning opportunities that can help you negotiate more effectively. It’s free and you can opt out at any time. In the meantime, you can read more of my blogs on negotiation.


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