How to be Assertive…but with grace

This Wednesday, I’m speaking on a panel at the WINSummit for women, and the topic is negotiation. My panel specifically addresses assertiveness. Is it hurtful or helpful to women?

Let me start by saying, I was born and raised Indian, which is a patriarchal society. In my home, women and girls didn’t have a voice. Being born in America, I would mouth off to my dad and challenge him, but it was never well received. One time, he actually dumped a whole bucket of water on me for not wanting to wake up early on a Saturday morning. My dad and I were at loggerheads growing up and we didn’t speak for the last 15 years before he died.

I didn’t negotiate at all in the early years of my career. I shudder when I think about the salaries I agreed to. Once I was up for the business news anchor spot on the number one station in the country. They were recruiting me, and looking back, I had all the negotiating power in the world. But what did I do? I did what a minority girl who was taught she had little value does. I was so happy to be considered, I took whatever they gave me: $85,000 for a full time position, waking up at 2:30am everyday, do my own hair and makeup, and write-produce my own segments.

Later, I learned that my predecessor was making $240,000. Shucks.

So today, as someone who is heading up her own female leadership movement for South Asian women, I want you to get where you need to go and get there FASTER!

My top negotiation tips
Jesus. If you don’t know how to negotiate, don’t fear the process. LEARN! It’s a muscle like anything else. Think about the endurance and stamina you build when you go to the gym. Start by negotiating for low-stakes things. When booking a hotel (and not like a millennial, online), say “Is that the best rate you can offer?”

At its root, assertiveness in negotiation is about knowing your value. When you know your worth, you feel more comfortable asking for what you want. I had the hardest time asking for the speaking fee I deserve in the early days. But today, with 20 years of television, a TedTalk and numerous keynotes under my belt, I know my worth. And I address money first when a speaking request comes through. But its also important to be respectful of the wants and needs of the other party. So I say, “Do you have a budget?”

Use value of a pause. I’m on the front lines, speaking to women everyday now. Women looooooooove to talk. Sometimes because we are uncomfortable with silence. But silence can be our best friend in a negotiation. Pause when collecting your thoughts before giving an answer. Pause when you don’t know the answer or don’t like the offer on the table. Pause long enough to say, “I need 24 hours to get back to you.”

Know the value of your seat. Know how much the position you are negotiating for pays or know how much the thing you are negotiating for costs. One of my favorite speakers while I was at Morgan Stanley is Carla Harris. She recommends never pegging your market value to your last job. Peg it to the market value of the seat. Check on Glassdoor.com to compare. And then always have language and scripts ready to deploy in real time when getting low-balled on a salary, “You wouldn’t want me to deliver below market value work, so I wouldn’t accept a below market salary.”

I hope this helps you!

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