When I teach the negotiation process to women, they often struggle with one of the first steps, which is defining what they desire. Whenever we negotiate, we need to start with ourselves – what we actually want. But often, it’s hard for us to see past our blind spots, which are shaped by the outcomes and priorities that society tells us we want. A recent experience highlighted this in a hard way for me. So I want to share my story and arm you with some questions that can help you to get past your conditioning and into depths of the question: What do I really desire?
What I thought I wanted
This week, I found myself struggling with the long process of bringing my negotiation book to life. If you’ve been following me for a while, you might know that I am working with a wonderful writing coach, Lauren Marie Fleming, and working my way through her Write Your Friggin Book Already™ program. This summer, I wrote my ugly first draft. This fall, I’ve been slowly working my way through the first of many edits.
I was on track, according to the plan I had set out for myself, when I went to a workshop about how to land a publishing deal. During that workshop, the facilitator shared the importance of building a huge audience for my book. I know – sounds obvious; I do need people to buy my book – and so yes, I knew this. But she also said that agents won’t even want to see a copy of my manuscript, just a proposal. She said those same agents would then tell me how the book should flow and who the audience should be. And the biggest shocker was still to come. She said I should stop writing and editing immediately and focus my attention simply on getting more followers on social media.
I was crushed
I left that workshop feeling completely deflated. I knew a traditional book deal was a long process. But I never thought part of the process would require me to stop writing. Or that the agent would have control over what the book was about. If it’s my book, shouldn’t it be my book? Shouldn’t I get to decide what’s in it?
But. She was the expert. And I’ve learned to listen to experts throughout my life. So I stopped editing and focused on building my audience on Instagram. Unfortunately, she told me, the 4000+ folks I’m connected with on LinkedIn don’t count – even though many of those are actually solid connections. Instead, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook are the platforms that agents and publishers understand – so that’s where I needed to focus.
The way forward didn’t feel good to me
I really dislike facebook (sue me, Mark Zuckerberg) and I just don’t get TikTok. So I determined I would go all in on Instagram. If you’ve been following me there, you might have noticed me posting every day and talking or posting to stories every couple of hours. I have content pillars, and (as you know if you received this article in your inbox) I write a weekly article, so it wasn’t a crazy amount of extra work.
It was, however, soul-sucking. And the worst part: it was only getting me about three new followers every two days. I tried to make myself feel better by doing the math. But that only made things worse. I calculated that since I need another 9,000+ followers, it will take me 16 years to get to the level that would make me publishable! [Yes, I know it works more like a snowball, but I was trying to catastrophize over here, okay?]
Pessimism aside, I just didn’t think I could possibly keep making dorky reels and talking into the camera nonstop every day for the length of time it would take to get a deal. I have real work to do, which means coaching clients, speaking at events, and helping women negotiate for what they deserve every single day.
A coaching call spotlighted how I was feeling
When I showed up for my group coaching call with Lauren on Tuesday, I was in full-on doom spiral mode. When she asked how my book was coming along, my eyes welled up and my throat tightened. When she asked how I felt about telling my story, I started to ugly-cry.
It just felt so out of reach.
But then she asked me some magical questions.
What would success look like for this book?
Are the things you’re doing in service of your book helping to bring that vision into reality?
I didn’t want what I thought I wanted
As I thought about her first question, I realized it wasn’t the label of New York Times Bestseller that really matters to me. Let me clarify – if that’s actually on the table, I’m all in for a 7-figure publishing deal. But it isn’t the thing that’s driving me.
When I close my eyes and picture success, I see my book in the hands of female entrepreneurs. I see myself signing it at Willlow Press, my favourite local independent bookstore. I see myself giving copies of it to young women. And I imagine hearing from people who couldn’t afford my $600 course, but who bought my book, dog-eared 43 pages of it, and are taking my advice in every one of their negotiations – and killing it.
My path wasn’t joyfully supporting my book
When I thought about the second question, I struggled to answer. I haven’t been editing. I haven’t been interviewing more women to be included. The only thing I’ve been doing is making effing Instagram reels where I use someone else’s sound and write a caption that somehow connects that sound to negotiation. Ugh.
Now, to be honest, I sometimes enjoy making these reels. Sometimes. And I do love talking into the camera about negotiation. I even love going live and answering your questions or freewheeling on a specific topic. But not every two hours. Not with the right keywords. Not on the schedule that Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithm determines is sufficient.
“If it’s killing you, take some time away”
At some point during the call, Lauren suggested I take a month off from social media. Find other ways to get people into my masterclasses. Focus on networking, speaking, maybe even run a VIP event where we do a deep dive into negotiation strategy in your sector (do let me know if you’d be into something like that). But she told me to stay off social. And use that time to do work that’s truly in service of my book.
So that’s my plan. On October 31 I’ll hand out Halloween candy in my fabulous witch costume and I’ll log off all social media accounts. No social media in November. Zippo. None.
Don’t worry – you’ll still get your weekly newsletter from me…provided you’ve signed up. If you haven’t, click here to do that right now.
Do the things that feel good
I’m excited about no-social November. I’ve already lined up a few cool projects, including some new negotiation programming. I’ll be running a couple of masterclasses. Plus I’ll be speaking at 4 events (at least, so far). I’m going to be out in the community, networking and creating new relationships the old-fashioned way. And I can’t wait to get back into daily writing and editing.
Am I scared? Yeah, maybe a little. But only because it feels like I’m being a rebel.
Rejecting what you think you should want is a rebellion
The morning after the call, I sat down with my journal, as I always do, for an hour of writing everything that’s running through my mind. I processed my desire to get a traditional publishing deal. I processed my commitment to the Instagram algorithm. And I had a moment of revelation that is still sitting with me.
If you know my history, you know that I spent 19 years of my career in public service. One of my greatest skills was figuring out how to actually get stuff done inside a bureaucratic system that wasn’t equipped for quick decision-making. I always said that it was my priority to understand the system so I could work the system. And when I climbed to the senior executive level, I used my authority to improve the system and start dismantling the pieces that were broken.
I never considered just ignoring the system.
Choosing to ignore the Instagram algorithm is an act of rebellion. So is saying I don’t care about getting on the New York Times Bestseller List. These are rejections of the institutions and systems that we are conditioned to believe in.
How dare I reject these precious creations of powerful white men!
I am not uncomfortable with the idea of building in-person networks, speaking at more events, and building a stronger relationship with you – a person who graciously reads my email every week (thank you). I also don’t feel uncomfortable with the idea of self or hybrid publishing. I have incredible friends who can be my dream marketing team. And I have no doubt my book will find its readers.
My discomfort comes from rejecting the things that privileged white men have conditioned me to believe are the things I want. Internet fame. New York Times Bestseller behind my name. A traditional publishing deal that reinforces the hoops that we need to jump through to have our voices and ideas heard.
The illusion has disappeared
I didn’t spend 19 years trying to work inside patriarchal systems only to become an entrepreneur and repeat those lessons a second time.
Sometimes dismantling the system is just too much work. Instead we need to reject it.
What do you think you want?
There are lessons here for you, as you plan for your next negotiation.
Maybe negotiation itself isn’t uncomfortable. Maybe it’s actually just a normal conversation where you and another person work on coming to an agreement that is a good fit for both of you. Maybe you’re actually great at that kind of empathetic and collaborative conversation.
Maybe the uncomfortable part is just that one little step of defining your desires: sitting down and articulating what you want.
Maybe it’s uncomfortable because, your whole life, you’ve never been able to answer that question authentically.
Maybe you, like so many women, have been socialized to believe that what you want is to be happy with what you’re offered, to be humble and gracious, to say yes more than you say no, and to take other people at their word.
Maybe the hard part of negotiation is finally seeing your blind spots for what they are. The wishes that other people have for you.
Negotiation is about reclaiming your power
I often share an interesting tidbit that comes from psychology research. That is: negotiation behaviour is shaped in children between the ages of 5 and 9. It’s not genetic. It’s socialized. At 5, all children are equally audacious in their requests. But by 9, children raised as girls have learned that it’s not polite to ask for what they really want.
We carry this social conditioning throughout our lives. It manifests as our compulsion to demonstrate gratitude, humility, generosity, faith, and people-pleasing behaviour – in every area of our lives.
This leads to us staying in low paying jobs longer than we should. It leads to us accepting lower wages, higher workloads, and more non-promotable tasks. In entrepreneurship, it leads to us bootstrapping and growing incrementally rather than seeking venture funding, shying away from promoting ourselves, and offering our products and services well below the value that clients are willing to pay.
Reclaim your own desires
If you are preparing for a negotiation – at home, at work, or in your business – then one of the most important steps you can take is determining what you truly desire out of the potential deal. Grab your journal and a fresh cup of coffee. Turn your phone off and put some relaxing music on in the background. Ask yourself:
- What would success look like? How would it feel?
- What is the most generous agreement possible? What are the components of that agreement?
- Why are those components important to me?
- Are any of the components things I should want? Do I really want them?
- What is the importance of those components? Why do I think I should care?
These are some of the questions that can help you unpack your own complicated conditioning. Maybe you’re telling yourself that money doesn’t really matter, because that’s what you’re supposed to say when you work in social services.
But maybe it does. It’s ok to want the freedom of not worrying about paying your bills. It’s ok to want to buy yourself a new car that you don’t have to worry about. It’s ok to want to spoil yourself. These desires don’t make you a bad person. They don’t make you a bad spouse or mother. They make you human.
Need more help?
If you find yourself approaching a negotiation and feeling fearful and overwhelmed, check out my Work With Me section for crash courses that can help you prepare to negotiate like a boss.
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