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February 10, 2011

Am I really signing up for this again??

Yesterday I sat in on a conference call with the founders of She Negotiates, that incredibly useful seminar I have previously blogged about. At one point the conversation turned to asking as an initial step of negotiation.

Another participant on the call, who like me was there to sharpen her negotiation skills, confessed that she has always been nervous to ask. Won't people view her negatively? Won't she appear as cheap (for asking to pay less money) or arrogant/aggressive (if asking to earn more money)?

Then several women chimed in to say they don't ask because either it never occurs to them, or they're scared of the impression they'll make.

This was a reminder for me. When I finished my daily asking experiment, I felt fearless. I had asked strangers to eat food off their plate, I'd asked for amazing discounts and saved thousands of dollars. I'd asked for fun things and practical things, for selfish and selfless things. Asking led me to people and places, feelings and experiences, I never imagined I'd encounter. I felt like I could ask for the moon and have a 73 percent chance of getting it! (Since that was my success rate at the end of the year.)

But I wasn't always like that. Before July 1, 2008, I was worried about bothering people, imposing, coming across as crazy or lazy or rude. And lately, I've been getting back into old habits. I've been hiding behind the comfort of a tight schedule and the belief that I'm being more 'strategic' about my requests: only asking with a big payoff and/or low effort for this busy lady, thank you very much. I've been telling myself, "Nah. 10% off is  not worth it." "I did that daily asking thing in 2008. Nothing to prove now." "Who has time to ask for that?" "I am asking daily, just for smaller, simpler things," And worst of all, "What's the point?" 

Today I certainly am negotiating the big ticket items -- work, purchases, wedding transactions. But I fear I've been losing some of the spontaneity... gutsiness... those amazing rewards that emerge when you're looking for opportunities everywhere and all the time.

And yesterday's conversation was a reminder.

About the point.

I remembered that for thousands or maybe millions of women out there, asking is not something that routinely occurs to them. You can ask for a random discount at Best Buy? Get your bank to reverse a fee, just like that? You can get upgraded on a rental car or spend the day with your favorite chef? Get your HR department to give you half-off tickets to Disneyland for your in-laws, even if that's not listed on the company intranet? JUST BY ASKING??

For just as many women, if not more, asking is a one-way road to humiliation. It leads to closed doors and harsh judgements. And, most frightening of all, failure.

So not asking, and keeping quiet, seems easier because the possibility of success stays with you, like a faithful labradoodle. Let's call her Illusion.

"Shouldn't I be earning $50k?" you muse. And Illusion, curled up on your lap, licks your knuckles and yaps back, "That's definitely a possibility! But don't ask your supervisor now, since they just laid off 20 percent of the staff. And your master's degree wasn't in the field they listed on the job description, which they rubbed in when they hired you. I mean, you should totally ask for a raise, but wait for the evaluation and then make sure it's more than inflation. You don't want to get fired or make any enemies, but you're definitely entitled to more. Actually, you're overdue for a promotion! Kyle knows you pulled all that extra weight and you should be first in line. So sit tight for now, and if nothing happens in six months, we'll reevaluate."

So you don't ask, not yet at least, and you keep caressing that puppy and wondering why you're not satisfied at work. Wondering what Roger is earning, and how Maisie is paying for that trip to Istanbul. Instead of throwing Illusion out the window (sorry PETA) and screaming "I deserve better!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"


That would suck, wouldn't it?

The point is that asking isn't just easy once you get some practice. It's essential and indispensable.

Oh my god. I think I just realized what I need to do.

Starting today I'm going to ask daily again, for a month.

I feel it within me... the asking urge...

Let's consider this an exercise.

Does The Daily Asker still got game?

I had no idea I'd be typing these words when I started this blog post!! I thought I'd write something about the conference call, and how it reminded me that I was once afraid to ask. Yada yada. But then I've rarely been one to plan ahead. And if I ever actually thought about the crazy things that would happen by committing  to a year of daily asking, I might have never done it.

Now I know I need to do this. For everyone reading this blog, man or woman, who has considered asking but hesitated.

I am like you. Simply living my life. Thinking about my options. Wondering how things could be better. Until recently, I was grad student. I grew up in California and lived in Boston for 7 years. I have a beat up old car. I am am very particular about my cappuccino foam and I have freckles. I do not have an MBA.

I'm going to ask again, daily, just for a while, so we can get back into this asking thing, together. It's not a year, I know... but enough to help me get back in the swing. And remind you that asking is doable and so worthwhile. You just have to stop analyzing and embrace it. Enough theory. Enough salary discussions and small business posts (though those are fun, and I'll come back to them after this month!).

That's that. It is written.

I will ask for a month and report back daily. For you, my gentle reader. And for myself.
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