Book Review: Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want

Cardiology Magazine

An ever-important topic that women tend to underutilize, not only professionally, but personally, is the power of negotiation. In Ask for It, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever provide women with practical and actional strategies and skills to effectively negotiate in all aspects of their lives. Throughout medical training, including medical school and residency training, negotiation skills have not formally been a part of the curriculum. Then, after seemingly endless years of training, we finally have the chance to negotiate a job opportunity and feel unprepared for this moment. This deficiency of teaching these practical skills in medicine was not evident to me until I attended business school. An entire semester-long class on negotiation was a popular and high-yield class for MBA students.

In addition to highlighting this outstanding book, we wanted to share these constructive tips and tricks with other female cardiologists to harness the power of negotiation in their everyday lives.

To begin, a foundational principle the reader must understand is that everything in life is negotiable. Unsurprisingly, Babcock's research consistently found that men were four times more likely to initiate negotiations to advance their interests. Women must learn to not listen to their inner voice that too often leads to imposter syndrome, saying they don't deserve it, they're not good enough or they're being too pushy.

Through a four-phase program, the readers are walked step-by-step through the tips and tricks needed for successful negotiations. The authors provide numerous real-world examples of women whom they interviewed from all sectors and commonly held assumptions and tendencies that tend to hinder women. Below are some key takeaways from each phase.

In Phase One, "Everything is Negotiable," the reader is asked to take a step back and look at her life from all aspects and decide what change(s) she wants to make, either big or small, personal or professional. The reader is pushed to aim a little higher, reach a bit further to enrich her life, and expand her possibilities.

  • Identify what's missing in your life: what do you love, want and need in your life to feel fulfilled in the short and long term?
  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses, update your role models, and think big and bold, but even the small changes make a big difference.
  • Run your own life: you're the one to decide what you're worth and paid.
  • Recognize the power of subconscious bias and the "denial of personal disadvantage" in which members of a group recognize that other members have suffered discrimination but believe they have escaped unfair treatment.
  • Methodically assess the fairness at your corporation or institution.

Phase Two, "Lay the Groundwork," describes the practical skills needed to prepare for a negotiation. The authors highlight a few key skills and the information you need to obtain to develop a persuasive argument.

  • Information is power: research multiple sources of information, even consider going straight to the source. You'll be surprised how much you can learn simply by asking.
    • Understand the context in which you're asking and personalities of the players.
    • Know how decisions are made and find out who has this information.
    • Timing can be critical and procrastinating is rarely helpful.
  • Women tend to underestimate their value, skills and potential: clearly define your BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement), your reserve value (the lowest you'd be willing to accept), and the target value (your goal in the ask).
  • Boost your bargaining power: consider personal factors that might not be immediately evident on your resume.
  • Consider volunteering for an unpopular project to highlight your leadership abilities, find creative ways to increase your value.
  • Make sure your final agreement gives the other party sufficient incentive to carry out their end of the bargain.

Phase Three, "Get Ready," helps the reader pinpoint the fundamental strategies of choosing the right target, deciding when to make the first offer, and identifying the best time to ask. The authors highlight the cooperative approach to bargaining or "expanding the pie," a key negotiation strategy. 

  • Shoot for more and you'll get more: it's rare that someone will voluntarily give you more than you ask for.
  • Stop listening to your inner voice, causing low personal entitlement.
  • Women often negotiate far more effectively on behalf of others.
  • Do you always have to aim high and ask for more? The answer is almost always YES.
  • Commit to your goal and believe in it. Focus on the positives – you're probably doing better than your give yourself credit for.
  • Use the power of cooperative bargaining: enlarging the pie and focus on common goals
    • Share information, offer to make a trade.
  • Use interest-based positions: understand the needs, goals, restraints and pressures of the other side, and find ways to satisfy those interests.
  • Consider using anchoring: making the first offer influences the other side's perception of what you want and will accept, not necessarily your best offer. However, when you don't have sufficient information in the negotiation, it's less helpful to make the first offer.
  • Practice: start small and ask for something you are likely to get, then continue to stretch yourself, and you'll become more comfortable hearing no.

Lastly, Phase 4, "Put It All Together," highlights the importance of practicing and role-playing with a colleague – a trick that MBA negotiation classes often employ. The authors provide tools that help negotiators from conceding too early, prevent unexpected reactions and ease commonly held anxieties leading up to the negotiation. 

  • Role-playing is extremely useful and helps to control the emotional aspects of negotiation.
  • Get in a positive mood before your negotiation, drawing on experiences that made you feel confident.
  • Give yourself a reward following your negotiation.
  • The likability factor: present your goals in a positive, non-threatening way and be relentlessly pleasant.
  • Don't forget to listen carefully, take a breath and think carefully about what you want to say. You could even consider taking a break.
  • If you never hear no, you're not asking enough.

With a taste of these key strategies, we hope you read their book and take full advantage of the endless opportunities in your life!

Katherine Clark, MD
Ritu Thamman, MD, FACC

This article was authored by Katherine Clark, MD, fellow in training at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT, and Ritu Thamman, MD, FACC.

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