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Is Negotiation the Quickest Way to End Your Career?

Is Negotiation the Quickest Way to End Your Career?

Posted November 16th, 2014 in Career Advancement.

Well, it has finally happened. After a few years of Sheryl Sandberg and Lean-in being untouchable, people are starting to question her strategies. Specifically, the idea of women negotiating and asking for what they want. Is it possible that leaning in could have a worse impact than saying nothing at all?

A recent article in the New Yorker titled “Lean Out: The Dangers for Women Who Negotiate” advises against women pushing hard when negotiating their career. The author, Maria Konnikova, tells the story of “W” –a tenure-track professor who asks for higher benefits only to have her offer withdrawn by her potential employer, Nazareth University. Ultimately, Konnikova draws the conclusion that “had W voiced excitement and held onto her doubts, she would now be Nazareth-bound.” This is a short-sighted deduction and makes a dangerous inference that it is best to keep your mouth shut because you might fail.

Let’s take a quick look at what W was asking for in her negotiation:

  • Less than 20% increase in salary, having previously negotiated a higher rate in similar academic positions.
  • Paid maternity leave for a semester
  • Pre-tenure sabbatical
  • A limit to how many classes she would teach every semester

“I know some of these might be easier to grant than other,” she wrote, “Let me know what you think.” The assumption being that she might possibly receive a couple of her requests or an explanation of why they were not possible, because isn’t that the point of negotiation? What she got instead was a terse response and a retracted offer. Rather than respecting the questions and needs of their employee, they shut the door. If this is their response to a typical negotiation, how will they respond if she were to come to them in a few years with a personal emergency or a serious internal university issue?

Moreover, she was not asking for a hand-picked bowl of green M&M’s in her classroom every day and to have no student look her in the eye. Her requests had to do with maternity leave, compensation and work-life balance – things that clearly aligned with her values and would ultimately make her happy and successful. Regardless of their ability to honor her requests, their inability to even have the conversation demonstrates a fatal flaw in their organization.

I know more than anyone that losing a job feels awful. You feel angry, embarrassed, ashamed, not to mention the loss of income and the debilitating fear of wondering if you will be able to pay your bills. It’s making me nauseous just thinking about it. However, had W kept her mouth shut and “held onto her doubts” as Konnikova recommends, she would be employed by a company that has no respect for her voice and promotes a culture that is misaligned with her values. To me, that is much more nauseating than unemployment.

In fact, I see her negotiation as the final step of vetting her employer. She learned an incredible amount about the culture of the university and how they treat their employees from this single e-mail. The assumption that it was “W” who was at fault here is completely backwards, Nazareth missed an opportunity to fight for what a woman that was clearly important enough for them to offer a position too. Any person or company that can’t communicate will have much more than a failed negotiation to worry about.

When it comes to negotiation, you might not always get what you ask for, but you always deserve the opportunity to ask and open up the conversation. The answer you receive may prove to be more valuable than you could have ever imagined.

What do you think “W” should have done? Comment below with your thoughts or experiences leaning in.