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Ayana Ledford

As Executive Director of PROGRESS, Ayana Ledford works to improve society by empowering girls and women through the art of negotiation. She has conducted over 100 presentations on the value of negotiating for women's and girl's organizations throughout the region. Some groups include the 2014 Women of Courage Awardees, Harvard University, Westminster College, and ALPFA Pittsburgh.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Type, type, type… backspace, delete, backspace and type again.

Sigh… It is a pattern.

The page is still empty and as I select word count from the menu bar. I still haven’t hit the marker that will make this article complete.

What is the problem?

I know the topic I wish to discuss but there is something that is making me hesitate. What is making me hesitate? I cannot seem to put my finger on it.

Hmmm, perhaps it is the way society has socialized women to believe that they must be perfect.

This is an unrealistic expectation.

I constantly feel the need to prove my competence, intelligence, and value. When I am provided feedback (criticism), I think about what I could’ve and should’ve done, and will do next time. That one critical comment or comments will make me question my capabilities but it will only last a moment. However, that moment will feel like a lifetime. Yet, in reality, it is ever so brief and I will eventually get over it.

Research points to the value of women negotiating and how that plays a role in the wage and leadership gap between men and women (“Women Don’t Ask”, Babcock & Laschever). Women will speak out about things they believe in but when it comes to advocating on behalf of themselves, they are reluctant to do so.  Although, encouraging women to negotiate can be mutually beneficial for all parties involved, women are hesitant to make the ask.

Keep in mind that there are a number of women who negotiate daily. These women are unabashed to talk about their qualifications and to take risks. This article is intended for the large number of women who have something valuable to share but are afraid to speak up about it.

So for the women who are reading this article and do not negotiate on their own behalf, I would like you to think about why you don’t negotiate.

There are a number of studies that report on the differences between the way we socialize our girls and boys. These differences play a role on why women are reluctant to advocate on behalf of themselves.  Women who are well-versed in the art of negotiation and self-identify as leaders may even hesitate to negotiate or be in the spotlight. I would like you to think about what makes you fearful from negotiating, speaking up, or taking on a leadership role.  Is it the fear of hearing “no,” making mistakes, being criticized, or is it the fear that people will perceive you negatively?

There are a few basic steps one must take prior to entering a negotiation:

1. Make a plan. 
As you create your plan, think about your goals, interests, the other side’s goals and interests, what you will do if you don’t negotiate, your options (their options), and tactics.   

It’s to my contention that it is not only important to harness your negotiation skills but also build your confidence. There are a number of ways confidence is defined. For the purpose of this piece, let’s summarize confidence as having a thought and then acting on it. To take action is to become fearless.

2. Be comfortable with hearing “no.” You tested the boundaries. Your next step is to find out what you need to do to receive “yes” (education, management experience, increased time in the field of study, etc.).  Be aware that there may be nothing you can do to change the no to a yes but at least you know your position within the company. This will help you take steps towards making a new plan to reach your goal.

3. Learn to welcome criticism. Your work is being acknowledged and you should feel pleased that you took to time to share your perspective. In addition, you may learn something from the critique. See this as an opportunity to learn how to grow and do better.

4. Take risks.
Success is how you define it. Allow yourself room to alter your path to success from time to time. Keep in mind that opportunities may open up when you take risks. 

5. Practice. The more that you put yourself in the spotlight will shorten your recovery time when mistakes do happen.

6. Share. Women (and men) need to share more stories about their life’s glitches (getting fired from a job, an unsuccessful promotion, a botched team project that they led, etc.) and how they overcame them to redefine success. Together, we can dismantle the myth of perfection.

Effective negotiation skills can be learned. A fearless negotiator involves practice and building confidence. Take a proactive approach towards your goals and challenge yourself to push through the hesitations. Practice will help you become a confident negotiator, but it is also important to identify your fears so you can overcome them.