Successful negotiation requires more than just confidence

By Sian Beilock

Everyone knows that confidence is essential to negotiating a raise or promotion.

But for women, closing the ‘confidence gap’ can’t solve the wage gap. Self-assurance alone won’t turn 85 cents into a dollar or overturn a system that has routinely underpaid women. Because beyond confidence, there are also other cognitive factors holding them back.

Women often internalize negative feedback and let it dictate their sense of worth, according to research from Wellesley. If we make a mistake at work, we think it’s because we lack those skills. But if we hit a professional milestone, we’ll attribute it to luck. Worse, performance reviews can perpetuate this negative feedback cycle—where there is often a double standard. It’s not uncommon that managers will criticize women for certain behaviors that they praise men for. As Fast Company previously reported, a woman who doesn’t display “interpersonal warmth” might be labeled “brusque” or “uncaring,” but a man will be seen as “decisive.”

Women and perfectionism

It’s no wonder that women feel pressure to be perfect at work. And when it comes time to negotiate a raise or promotion, this pressure can be an obstacle for success. When my team and I conducted research for my book Choke, we found that the pressure to succeed leads to overthinking, which causes ‘paralysis by analysis’—the inability to perform basic functions on autopilot. It’s similar to how thinking about every movement can make the best professional athlete miss a free throw, as pressure mounts and the fear of messing up makes it hard to articulate one’s point. We focus too much on every word coming out of our mouths. We fumble words, miss the mark, and even forget the critical points that we had intended to make.

In short, we choke. And, returning to the first point, many women will then internalize this negative outcome as a product of a negative personality trait, rather than acknowledging the situation at hand—systemic inequality that can cause us crippling anxiety.

What can be done to overcome these hurdles? While it’s important to remind yourself of all the reasons you deserve a raise or promotion, it’s similarly important to alter how you view stressful negotiations—focusing on three key areas can help you prepare in both thought and action.

1) Practice, practice, practice

You’ve decided what you’ll say in your negotiation. Now it’s time to rehearse it in-person with someone who shares vital characteristics with your supervisor—whether it’s a friend or straight-shooting colleague. Sitting down with them can help ease your anxiety about sitting down with your boss. Plus, they can offer comments or criticisms on your talking points.

If you can’t schedule any face time, videotape yourself or watch yourself practice in the mirror. It may be uncomfortable to see yourself on film or stare yourself in the eye. But if you can do this, and tweak your remarks to emphasize your points, you’ll find that making your case in real life comes more naturally.

2) Accept (and embrace) your anxiety

Asking for a raise or promotion is inherently stressful—and that anxiety only heightens when you break into a sweat and feel your heart race as you enter the big meeting. Rather than view these physiological responses as something negative, reframe them as a positive: it’s your body’s way of saying you’re about to do something meaningful. If you feel your heart beat faster, tell yourself that your body is increasing blood flow to the brain so you can think more clearly. By changing your perspective, you can turn your worries into a positive tool.

3) Prevent ‘paralysis by analysis’

You’re sitting at your desk when you get a calendar alert: Your salary negotiation is in 15 minutes. You should review your talking points and give them a final tweak, right? Wrong. The time to prepare yourself is not immediately before the meeting—you might overthink your argument and fail to make your point. Instead, use that time before the meeting to clear your mind. Listen to your favorite song. Call a friend. Take a short walk. Whatever it is, if you’re relaxed going in, you’ll be more relaxed when the negotiations start—and be able to present your case convincingly.

Many things go into a successful negotiation, and some of those factors won’t be in your control. However, when you take these three steps, you improve your chances to get the outcome that you desire and deserve.

Sian Beilock is the president of Barnard College. 


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