"Stop being such a girl!"

Boys may have yelled this to you on the playground years ago, but did you ever get the feeling that the guys in the boardroom -- too politically correct to say it aloud -- were thinking the same thing? As women we hate this criticism since it often strips us of our power and devalues our natural talents. At their worst, these words (spoken or unspoken) are used to put us down or put us "in our place."

But, as much as we hate to admit it, there's occasionally some truth lurking behind that statement. Sometimes we do act in stereotypically girly ways, forgetting that we're grown women and forsaking our hard-earned strength and independence. This can undermine us in business situations, especially when negotiating. Although we have many natural talents that can help us (see our last column that celebrates these), we also have some qualities that can trip us up.

As a Reinvention Coach™, Pamela sees this all the time. She works with many clients --both men and women--who want to make a change in their careers, or even take the leap into entrepreneurship. One of the things that Pamela has noticed is that her male clients generally find it easier to navigate certain situations that her female clients tend to struggle with. From her experience, she's discovered three common ways that women tend to act like 'girls' during negotiations:

  1. Not asking for enough
    One of the primary ways that we undermine ourselves is by minimizing what we're willing to ask for. This usually shows up when we're negotiating for money or perks--things that have value. Sometimes fear stops us from asking for more ("I can't ask for everything"), or we make the mistake of requesting what we actually need. But here's a reality check: When negotiating, men don't think about what they need. They think about what they want, what they deserve, or how much they can get, and they're not afraid to ask for it. When women don't approach negotiations from the same perspective, they inevitably lose out.

    Case in point: Pamela recently heard of a situation where a man was hiring a young woman into his firm. In the course of the offer, he asked her to name a salary figure. She told him she wanted $50K. He gave it to her, and no doubt she walked away happy. But here's the rub: Her new boss was secretly disappointed that she hadn't asked for more. He'd expected to her to ask about the salary range for the position; in fact, he had been prepared to pay her at least $55K and most likely would have gone as high as $60K. By not asking for more, the woman missed out on an extra $10K in salary, plus her new boss realized that he could get away with giving her less. She unknowingly created a pattern that's going to be tough to break.

  2. Taking things personally
    Because women are relationship-driven, we often view our interactions through the lens of personal connection. As we said in last month's column, this can definitely benefit us, especially when we need to cultivate new business. The potential downfall of this quality is that seeing everything in terms of a relationship can cause us to take things personally, leading to unnecessary conflicts and potential damage to our image.

    In one particular situation, a former client of Pamela's sought more responsibility, so she asked to work on a high-profile assignment. Her boss agreed but didn't immediately hand over the details of the project. Two weeks went by with no word, and Pamela's client came to her coaching session feeling devastated. She interpreted her boss's lack of follow-up as proof that he didn't value her talents and was certain that he didn't think she could handle the expanded assignment. Upon further probing it came out that her boss was overloaded; he had a difficult time following up on things and was often a bottleneck for many projects in the department. Pamela pointed out to her client that if she had realized that her boss's response had been situational (he had too much to do) rather than personal (a commentary on her ability to handle the assignment), she might have taken a more proactive approach to getting the information from him. This would have enhanced her image; he would have seen her as a motivated self-starter who was up to handling such a big task. Taking the situation personally caused Pamela's client to unintentionally create the impression that she lacked initiative, thereby casting doubt on her ability to manage the assignment--the very thing that she was trying to avoid.

  3. Forgetting that it's just a game
    To men, negotiations are like contact sports: They have fun pushing back-and-forth, but in the end it's just a game. Women tend to take things much more seriously; when pushed during a tough negotiation, we can sometimes overreact and slide into defensiveness. When that happens, we create the same impression among the boys in the boardroom that we did years ago with the boys on the playground: She can't take the game. The solution here is twofold: (1) Remember that it's just a game, and (2) as we said in the previous point, don't take it personally.

So the next time you get the feeling that the guys are thinking "You're acting like a girl!," check yourself. See if you've fallen into any of the traps mentioned above. In doing so you may realize that instead of being an insult, this statement might be your wake-up call to take back your power and act like the smart, strong, independent woman you are!

What challenges have you struggled with as a woman business owner? Write us at ElainePamela@gmail.com and let us know!