How To Promote Yourself Without Sounding Like A Braggart

self promotion braggingBy Julie Steinberg

If women grew accustomed to the idea that negotiation is a part of daily life and should be embraced, they would be a lot less squeamish when it comes to big negotiations like asking for a raise or flexible working arrangement.

So says a new book, "Pushback: How Smart Women ask -- and Stand Up -- for What They Want," penned by Selena Rezvani. Rezvani should know: She's the co-owner of Women's Roadmap, a consulting firm that helps push women into leadership roles, and has worked with clients like Comcast, Apple and Johnson & Johnson. Rezvani also wrote the book "The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won't Learn in Business." FINS caught up with Rezvani, 34, to chat about why negotiation isn't as frightening as it seems and what can be done to nudge women in the right direction.

Julie Steinberg: What makes your book different from all the books out there on negotiation?

Selena Rezvani: I felt like negotiation was being treated as a buying-a-car scenario, with less connection to everyday matters. I was personally hearing women saying, "I have to negotiate every day for survival. Not just for money, but for projects and for assignments to lead the plum project overseas." That was the disconnect – as though it's once-a-year skill and not an everyday one.

Also, most of the books on negotiation that touch on gender are from Baby Boomers. They're not necessarily targeted at women in the first half of their career. The Boomers have done a wonderful job but it's a different vantage point.

If you talk to women 39 and under, there's a feeling of being underestimated. They feel dismissed. I understand this. As a young woman, I look like the furthest from the leadership protocol people are expecting.

JS: So why don't more women negotiate, and what are they doing wrong?

SR: Women want to please and be accommodating. They don't want to appear pushy, and I think in its essence, negotiating is about getting more power. Whether it's a better work arrangement for you, or whether it's more flexible or you get more money.

I'm not the first person to say women still have an uneasy relationship with power. Negotiating is just one form. Holding your own is a form of power. Young boys and men are socialized differently to embrace power. Boys are told go out there and do it. Risk-taking for girls is seen as a much more dangerous, jeopardy-filled thing.

JS: Do you think this is endemic to American women?

SR: I think it's worse here. Our jumbled, sometimes conflicting expectations of women in the U.S. make a lot of women feel more paralyzed about negotiating. And our culture isn't based on negotiating. Compare it to India, where it's very commonplace and you do it all the time, from buying an apple to negotiating a job term. Many of us treat our salaries like they're an item in a shop. It says $20 so we will pay $20.

JS: Should you negotiate the salary for your first job?

SR: I definitely think it's worth negotiating your first job because of the cascading effect your first job can have on the rest of your career. If I have very competitive pay by the time I leave a place, that makes me more marketable and able to command a higher salary at job No 2. There's a domino effect that happens when we say it's easier to just skip the negotiation. It affects your current salary, your future salary and how much you have for retirement down the line.

Unfortunately, when you're at the bottom of the totem pole, you don't have a ton of leverage. You can't say, "here are the results that follow me." You're low on leverage but also low on confidence, and that's paralyzing. Of course I challenge that. Get informed and be smart.

JS: How can women do that?

SR: The majority of people don't use a third party, like a salary calculator tool, even though it's completely free. You have to be the smartest in the room before you walk in there and be able to reference those impartial facts and figures. If you hit a dead end, you ask to revisit the conversation in six months, for example. Say: "I will agree to your salary but I feel it should be higher and my performance will prove that."

Also keep in mind HR people are trained to offer you less than you want and work upward. Many HR people say, "I think twice when someone says OK [without negotiating]." If the HR person doesn't have the leeway, they can go to one other person to get a new figure approved.

The standard expectation is that you will negotiate. Your salary can go up as much as 20%. It's a rare day HR people will quote you the high end of the range.

JS: How do you give concessions while still getting what you want?

SR: Before you concede, you can sweeten the deal. If I'm negotiating offering my training services to a company and they balk at the price, rather than backing down and lowering my price, a better approach is to add something in that's of low value to you and of high value to them. In that example, I'd offer to throw in some in-person training seminars.

JS: There's a school of thought that says women should be blunt, not say thank you and generally dispatch with pleasantries like "How was your weekend?" What do you think about that?

SR: It's to our advantage to build some rapport. We want to bond a bit before we get right down to business. I would encourage that and having a sense of humor. You can be firm and still be a kind, respectful person to negotiate with. Be hard on the problem, be respectful of the person. It's you and I versus the problem, not you versus me.

JS: Your book also talks about self-promotion. How do you promote yourself without being obnoxious?

SR: I have a saying, "if it's true, it's not bragging." That's important because we really squirm and hate the idea of blowing ourselves up. What's neat about that is it really helps you in a negotiation to keep your argument fact-based. Someone was just asking me about their proposal for a raise. There was way too much subjective stuff in it that's easy to refute, like "I've come in here and done a great job. I've been valued by team members across the organization." Stuff that could sound like it's your own feelings without anything to back it up.

Don't start things with "I think, I believe, I feel I deserve." That's not a way to persuade anybody. Facts are hard to refute. Quantify where you can. Managers have short memories. They don't know what you're working on, let alone what's going well. It's your job to remind them.

JS: How much of the burden is on colleges and educational institutions to prepare people for the art of negotiation, and more broadly, for life in the workplace?

SR: I have an M.B.A., and I had a 40-minute class on negotiation, which makes no sense. There's a responsibility on the part of colleges to educate people about negotiation and how the real world works. They also don't teach about politics in the workplace and how to speak with authority.

JS: Can younger women approach older ones to be their mentors? Or is that presumptuous?

SR: It's not presumptuous at all. There's something that gets overcomplicated in asking a mentor to talk to you. People make it into a marriage proposal and make it so formal. It doesn't need to be like that. Say, "Joan, I so respect the way you hold your own in a meeting and the way you get your ideas across. Can I take you to lunch? I'd love to learn how you do that." Most will feel flattered and say yes.

JS: And if they say no?

SR: If someone says no, say "thanks for considering" and move on to the next.

JS: Anything else to add?

SR: Young women are looking at more established women all the time, at their behavior. We all know their actions speak louder than words. Even more than the advice your mentor gives you, you're watching the actions of more established women very closely. When those women expect the status quo and don't pipe up, it sends an even more powerful message that any advice they might give. All of us think about our legacy in the big picture on how we're influencing other people. Their actions are so powerful and move a lot of women to act the way they do.

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