By Dena Landon
You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. A useful phrase when dealing with recalcitrant toddlers, perhaps, but too many women don’t outgrow it. We’re raised to be nice, to not make waves. “Demanding,” “difficult,” or the dreaded “b” word are some of the worst terms that can be lobbed at us. Unfortunately, as one article on women’s negotiating skills points out, “Society hasn’t yet got rid of traditional associations with the truly feminine; never-changing “niceness,” “sweetness,” and “friendliness.”
The problem is, internalizing that we’re supposed to be nice, and never learning negotiating skills, leaves women at a disadvantage when entering the adult world. Whether it’s buying your first home or salary negotiations, we often just take what we’re offered. And that costs us. According to one survey, sixty-eight percent took a job offer without negotiating. Our unwillingness to negotiate costs us an estimated $2 million dollars in lost revenue for the average woman. Not given these skills during childhood, or the ability to practice as we grow up, it’s no wonder we’re hesitant to try something completely new when a job is on the line.
Every time I haven’t negotiated, or I’ve ignored my gut, I’ve regretted it. When I went back to work after staying home with my son the first job I interviewed at only offered me two weeks vacation. My family lived in a different state so any holiday required travel. My kid was going into daycare for the first time and I was worried he’d get sick a lot. Plus, I wanted an actual vacation. I had a lot of misgivings but let my recruiter convince me to take the job without demanding more vacation time.
Guess what? It was one of the worst jobs of my career. Everything I’d been afraid of came true–including blowing through all that vacation in two months when my son got pneumonia–the work environment and company culture was a nightmare and I’d never been more miserable. I wished that I’d had the courage to either walk away from the offer and hold out for something better or at least demand a better compensation package.
If you’ve been through a divorce you probably got a crash course in negotiating. Who gets the couch and who takes the TV. How much you’ll pay your ex in order to keep the dining room chairs but also putting your foot down when he demands you give him $15 to keep your kid’s art table (yes, really). Vacations, holidays and weekends, a custody schedule is a giant mess of give and take. Divorce is one big negotiation.
Even if your divorce is done, why not take those skills with you? View it as one of the pluses of coming out of a bad marriage.
From learning what really matters to how to concede on unimportant issues in order to get what you really want, without realizing it you’ve probably gained a lot of skills that you didn’t have before. Even if your divorce is done, why not take those skills with you? View it as one of the pluses of coming out of a bad marriage. After all, when women learn how to channel their innate strengths they can achieve as good as, if not better results as men in the business world.
I’ve been job hunting this past two weeks. At first, I entertained offers from companies who wanted to pay me $30-35k less than what I’d been making. After all, I needed a job. But then I channeled that strength–and those skills–I’d gained in my divorce. I stood firm on my worth and didn’t apologize for asking for a reasonable salary. When I got an offer for an hourly consultant role I asked for five dollars an hour more to cover my health insurance expenses–and got it.
This year I set a goal to increase my writing income. As part of that goal I made it a point to ask for a small increase in my rate from all my regular outlets. Not all of them said ‘yes,’ but it not only felt powerful and strong to even ask. And a few did say yes! Cashing a check with an extra twenty-five dollars in it may not be a big amount, all told, but the psychological impact of asking for what I wanted and getting it was huge.
You may still be upset, bitter or angry about some aspects of your divorce. It’s okay to cycle through those emotions, though I don’t think it’s a good idea to wallow in them. But don’t forget to celebrate your new strength, and some of the new skills you’ve gained. And, the next time you’ve got a major decision to make–a job, a new apartment, a gym membership–speak up and ask for what you want. After all, the worst they can say is ‘no.’ And you just might just walk away feeling more powerful for even having asked.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.