Work Smart, Not Nice

Work Smart, Not Nice

Do we have to choose between “smart” and  “nice”?

In an ever changing world perhaps it’s time for women to be both!

Years ago, when I was in college I remember watching an incredibly powerful documentary which interviewed  approximately 500 young girls and boys. Each child was asked the same question: “what is it that makes you special”.  Without exception, every little boy responded:“ I am smart” (prompt in action, quick intelligence, clever, effective) and every little girl responded: “I am nice” (delicate, agreeable, pleasant or amiable). I can recall, as if it were yesterday, how shocked I was. Maybe it was because of the overall consistency of the answers they gave or maybe it was  because I never really thought of myself as nice. Don’t get me wrong…I was kind and generous. Perhaps I was even thoughtful, respectful and polite. But nice….NO! I always asked for what I wanted, verbalized what I didn’t want, fought to get to the front of the line and in whatever door I needed to! Did that mean I wasn’t special? I think quite the contrary. Flash forward many years later (I won’t be specific there) and studies are actually proving that the way women have been socialized to behave, instead of acting on their true feelings and desires, may actually be a detriment to their success in today’s world.

At Carnegie Mellon, a study was conducted to test a women’s willingness to ask for more. This experiment consisted of students who were asked to play the game ‘Boggle’ and they were told they would receive between 3-10 dollars after they played four rounds of the game. At the students completion the researchers gave the students three dollars saying, “Here is three dollars. Is three dollars okay?” And if the students asked for more they would get the ten dollars. How did it turn out? Guess! Nine times more men asked for the full 10 dollars, and got it.

In another study conducted by Carnegie Mellon‘s career services department, the department strongly advised all students to negotiate their starting pay. Only seven percent of women asked for more money over the initial offer as opposed to fifty seven percent of men who asked for more,  and received it. The starting salary for all those who negotiated was on average more than $4,000.00 higher.

But why is it so important for women to learn “smart” skills over “nice” skills more than ever?

In a world where 76.8 percent of women age 25-54 work outside the home, the divorce rate stays steady at around fifty percent, the births to single mothers has risen from 10 percent in 1970 to 33 percent today and women’s earnings relative to men’s has stagnated, women need to start using there innate ability to ask for what they want. They need to learn to negotiate for the lives they desire and deserve. Though men actually find negotiating enjoyable, they liken it to “winning a ball game” or “wrestling” and women compare it to a visit to the dentists, that does not mean a woman cannot find ways to be a great negotiator.

-It starts with knowing who you are and what you’re worth. That includes research on market value for what type of work you do. Women report salary expectations between 3 and 32% less than a man doing the same job.  So before you start the negotiation process be prepared! Know what your ultimate goals are as well as your options. Make sure you do your homework to create a plan that involves both parties perspectives and interests. Remember a plan is a set of guidelines to get you started It is not written is stone.  And always make sure you don’t miss an opportunity to negotiate.  Most importantly don’t settle to soon for to little.

-Use your authentic voice. Find your own negotiating style and fine tune it over time. Negotiation takes practice. And though woman tend to be scared of being perceived as difficult or aggressive we have to keep in mind being “nice” and being empowered are not mutually exclusive.

Don’t avoid confrontations and conflict: it is part of the process. It is more detrimental not to voice clearly what your needs and expectations are because the underlying problems will never be fully addressed. By not communicating you create distance, which will only build up over time and undermine your overall success.

-Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Many women are in the same situation and have the same learning curve. There are places to go that offer help and inspiration on the road to your greatest success. Just like anything else showing up asking great questions and following is really half the battle.

Hopefully if we play our cards right the next batch of boys and girls when asked the question “what is it that makes you special”: They will ALL share the same answer : “I’m smart …but in a nice way!”



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