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all the things you need to negotiate well how to negotiate as a soft-spoken woman Mar 19, 2024
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The Road Is Not Taken

Because it requires courage - and the right timing - to begin


“My boss undermines me in meetings, questions my ability to do a good job, criticizes my work behind my back and hasn’t given me a raise or a bonus in five years.”


My new client paused and I let the silence linger because I felt that she hadn’t finished her thought. Or was fearful of reaching her narrative’s inescapable conclusion.


There are times when I feel like I assume therapists must. Uncertain where my client is leading us but alert to my personal compulsion to start solving problems before I know what they are.


“But I feel safe here,” she finally said.


“Uh, huh,” I said, pretty familiar with the classic therapeutic response.




Maybe, I thought, I should just repeat the word “safe” in the context of an abusive relationship.


In an even tone, I said “safe.”


She laughed and I knew we’d hurtled the first wall to a deeper conversation about Mandy’s* decade of experience as a urologist in a ten-person medical practice. Nine men. One woman. A practice which Mandy had only recently learned was paying her peers not one but two hundred thousand dollars a year more than she was making.


Like Many Professional Women, Mandy Had Done All the “Right” Things


Mandy loved her patients and her patients loved her back. She was an expert in her sub-specialty and well known in the community. She published in prestigious medical journals, spoke at medical conferences, and was active in her local community. But she never felt like she was doing enough. Something was missing and she didn’t know what it was. She had two children in elementary school and a helpful husband with a nine-to-five job.


“I feel safe,” she explained, “because the head of the practice group appreciates my desire to spend time with my family. If I move my patients to a new practice, they might not be so understanding.”


“Understanding,” I said.


Mandy laughed again. He’d been anything but understanding.


“Should I leave if John - he’s the practice head - won’t true up my compensation with my peers?”


My response to this was quick and unambiguous.


“No,” I replied.




Mandy had clearly expected me to push her into a decision that was difficult if not impossible to pursue now.


“No,” I repeated. “There’s nothing you should do. There’s only what you want to do.”


Every Change Has a Season


A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together


I try not to source my insights from pop music anymore but this song has its source in the Biblical text of Ecclesiastes. Verse One:


To every thing there is a season, A time for every purpose under the heaven:


Mandy and I got down to brass tacks. Her husband’s hours had been reduced to fifty percent in the previous six months. She was now the primary breadwinner. One of her children, nine year old Tiffany * had recently been suspended from school for fighting in the hallway with another girl who had been bullying her since the beginning of the year. Mandy felt guilty for not having headed off that problem too.


“Is now the right time to make a move?” I asked. “With everything in flux?”


Looking at her situation in the context of her current circumstances helped lift Mandy out of the shame she’d been sunk in since she’d failed to work up the courage to talk to her “boss” about a bonus and a raise in 2020.


I finally decided to fill the silence.


“Maybe now is the time to plan your next step but not to implement it. You could, for instance, replace some of your speaking engagements with extra time with your family. You’d also free up time to put together a business plan to present to a new urology group. You’ve been asked to join another group before, right?”




“So it would be good to invite the head of that practice out for lunch, just to explore, not to make an effort to renew his previous offer, but to get to know how that practice operates, what you might expect to encounter, whether the benefits of your current practice (that come with “the devil you know”) are likely to be offered in a new one (“without the devil”).


“Can you help me strategize that?” she asked. “And tell me how much it will cost.”


“Sure,” I said. “If we take baby steps now to prepare for a possibly life-changing future down the road, it will be much less threatening.” This time, I was the one to laugh. “And lots cheaper.”


A brief note on psychological courage


We’re not often called upon to engage in acts of physical courage. From risking our lives by saving a child from drowning in a raging sea to risking our health by tending to a sick (and contagious) friend suffering from the common cold.


We are, however, daily required to engage in acts of psychological courage. Psychologists tell us that the fear to be faced with psychological courage is the potential loss of psychological stability. In his book Psychological Courage, psychologist Daniel Putnam, describes the confrontation of any phobia (cold calls in my case, asking for a raise in Mandy’s) in this way.


Confronting a phobia is an act of courage because admitting the problem raises the possibility of being stigmatized. Admitting weakness in your public self-image is incredibly difficult, particularly when it involves a personal problem. This unique form of courage threatens the stability of the mind itself. Courage in the face of psychic death [or psychological harm] can be as profoundly difficult as courage in the face of physical death [or harm].


Concluding our call, I reminded Mandy of the courage she was daily exhibiting. Focusing her attention on her patients’ well being above her own comfort. Continuing to write and speak on proposed solutions to the challenges facing her colleagues in the field, borne more of a desire to increase the well-being of everyone’s patients the than to increase her already excellent professional reputation. She was also dealing straight-forwardly with a a child who had suddenly turned from an exemplary student into a problematic one.


“You don’t have to be a hero in every aspect of your life on every day. You’re not only entitled to pick and choose your battles, both you and your family will be best served if you do.”


What Comes Next


My part of the job for Mandy is to lay out a step-by-step process that will prepare her for her eventual move out of a toxic work environment or, if she chooses, to resolve the problem at hand by having a non-confrontational problem-solving, mutually beneficial conversation with her practice head in a manner that has a good chance of solving a long term problem. And to be prepared to leave if the problem cannot be solved, as many cannot.


I urge my clients daily to tackle what can be tackled without undue strain and certainly without blowing up a problem that might well be subject to resolution.


This opportunity to help women successfully face the enormous challenges of a business and professional life makes me happier than I ever was as a street-tough, take-no-prisoners litigator and trial attorney. Leaving practice took courage but I had to be ready to take the step, just as Mandy will.


If you’re thinking about leaving your current employment or seeking to improve it, book a Hundred Buck Hour to see what She Negotiates consultants (which now includes the dynamic Susannah Breslin) can do for you.


*All names changed and some circumstances compressed or expanded to hide the identities of the clients.


Currently, our good friends at shenegotiates are not taking clients; however, if you find yourself in a similar situation, then booking the Secret Weapon may be the right next step for you.

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