How to be Unafraid in Asking for What You Want

“Why were you so late after practice?” I asked

“Coach had a meeting today to share his expectations for the season and what he was looking for in a team captain,” she answered.

“Do you want to be team captain?”

“Definitely!”

“Well, at the next practice, you should go ahead and tell him you are interested in the position and that you would like his feedback throughout the season on what to improve to increase your chances,” I advised.

“Mom, I don’t think it works like that.”

Oh yes, it does!

However, according to Linda Babcock, Sara Laschever, Michele Gelf, and Deborah Small in their Harvard Business Review article, Nice Girls Don’t Ask, three separate studies found that women are less likely than men to negotiate for what they want.

They settle.

According to the researchers, there are two main reasons why they don’t ask for what they want.

Girls are given the message at an early age to focus on other’s needs instead and to avoid promoting their own interests. 

Messages from parents, teachers, other children, the media, and society in general - can be so powerful that when they grow up, they may not realize they’ve internalized this behavior.  Like my daughter, women tend to assume they will be recognized and rewarded for working hard and doing a good job.  

Unlike men, they haven’t been taught they can ask for more and, most importantly, how to do it. 

In my daughter’s eyes, the soccer coach was not only supposed to be a mind-reader but would notice her brilliant play, dedication, and footwork and pluck her out of the other 17 hardworking players.

Women often get penalized when they finally ask

Studies have found that when women negotiate salaries on their own behalf, they can be seen as aggressive, and employers are less enthusiastic about working with them. 

These women are often called aggressive, bitchy or bossy.  These words are like kryptonite to young girls.  Therefore they avoid any chance they might be labeled this way.

Unfortunately, since women aren’t well practiced in this area they often view negotiations as black and white and may indeed become aggressive because they think they need to become some sort of negotiation caricature.

For my daughter, I was trying to impress upon her a different approach.  Instead of marching up to the coach and demanding, “Can I have that position?” I was encouraging her to, instead, inform the coach of her goal and invite him to collaborate with her to help her achieve it.

Whatever the reasons, the research shows men place themselves in more negotiation situations and view more interactions as negotiating opportunities. They get a lot more practice in the art of asking and, therefore, a lot more comfortable. The researchers asked over 290 men and women a series of questions about how frequently they negotiated:

When was your most recent negotiation?
Men: 2 weeks ago
Women: 4 weeks ago

When was your second most recent negotiation?
Men: 7 weeks ago
Women: 24 weeks ago

When do you expect to negotiate next?
Men: 1 week
Women: 4 weeks

Of course, just because you ask for something doesn’t mean you are going to get it which could be another possible cause of why girls and women don’t ask - the fear of failure.

According to a recent study by the Girls Leadership Institute called, Dare to Dream, Dare to Act: What Girls Say About Bravery, less than one-third of girls scored high on the bravery scale. In fact, one-third said that the kind of courage they needed most in their life was the kind that helped them accomplish their goals.

Stacy Pena, contributing author to the Girls Leadership blog says, that although we know asking for what we want doesn’t always work, we need to keep trying. “Just as the muscles in our body need consistent exercise to stay strong, our voices do too. The more we practice asking, the more comfortable it becomes. With each victory, we gain confidence. With each disappointment, we learn something.”

My daughter wanted to accomplish a goal - be named team captain for one game, and yet somehow she felt it intimidating or scary to ask for help in achieving it.

Once my daughter understood that a request for collaboration and feedback along the way was the real ask and that with his help she might be able to earn the team captain role, she relaxed.

It’s funny how a small shift in phrasing made all the difference.

At the next practice, she approached the coach the way we had rehearsed it.  He was very enthusiastic and told her he would be happy to keep a “special eye out” to provide feedback since he now knew this was important to her.  He also told her her goal was very attainable.

This had an effect I wasn’t expecting.  Since my daughter had asked her coach directly for constructive criticism, she felt compelled to work harder but in a productive, non-stressed way. She was now confident she could make mistakes, and he would help her correct. He had given his word, and she wanted to improve. 

As promised, he started pulling her aside to give her feedback and she, in turn, felt more comfortable asking for a lot of clarification.  “So when you say I need to talk more on the field, can you be more specific?  Should I tell the players when they have a man-on (opposing player tailing them) or help with positioning?”  Once, after a game, I overheard him say softly to her, “That was very leaderly.”  

She made mistakes.  She took the feedback and adjusted. Each small improvement emboldened her.

Most importantly she was having more fun.

It took a while, but toward the end of the season, she was team captain two out of three games.  The other girls took notice.

So, apparently, had the coach.

-Laura

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