The One Essential Trait You Must Have To Negotiate For Yourself

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I’m wrapping up my work as a negotiation trainer and coach after nearly three years. After writing over 75 posts for Women@Forbes, teaching more than 60 workshops and coaching more than 50 corporate and individual clients, I’ve fielded many questions and concerns. The same common themes have come up again and again.

People want to know how to answer questions about their salary requirements. They aren’t sure how to take credit for their strengths without bragging. They wonder whether a promotion automatically comes with a raise. They want to know if they can get more flexibility at work.

These questions all boil down to the same thing: waiting for permission from someone else to go after the things you want.

“But I don’t have all the skills listed in the job application.”

“But the salary expectations field was required on the application, I had to fill it out.”

“But no one around here asks for raises, will I look bad if I do?”

These are essentially word-for-word objections I’ve heard from clients, and I hear these same things over and over again.

At first, I answered these questions cautiously. I’d read — and at times, experienced — all the things we commonly hear about what happens when women negotiate for themselves: we like women less as they get more successful. So you should mitigate that by being extra nice.

I relied on research and studies and gave as much advice about how to deliver the message — your tone, your body language — as what to actually say.

In recent months, I've been changing up the negotiation strategies that I teach people — and especially women. I'm saying time's up on Lean In-style, behavior-based tactics.

You know the ones I'm talking about: smiling a lot to make sure you come across as warm and friendly, being careful about the words you use so you don't seem too aggressive.

In the past, I've said "listen, studies show these tactics are effective, and I want you to get what you want. So try it if you can, advance your career, and make change as you climb through the ranks."

I’m tired of advising people to be patient.

If not now, when? If not you, who?

As it turns out, you can be humble and without being self-effacing. There’s a difference between assuming you know all the answers and knowing that you have something valuable to contribute. The former is obnoxious, the latter is confident.

We constantly minimize ourselves without even realizing it. It’s the difference between writing “If you would be open to…” and “I would like…” It’s apologizing before we’ve even started speaking. It’s waiting for someone else to speak up first in case what you were going to say sounds dumb in comparison.

Do you believe in yourself?

No, really. Do you?

It’s a tough question that only you can answer.

There's no substitute for inner confidence.

I'm not saying it's easy to tap into, but I do know that a genuine belief in your own abilities will take you far — and sometimes much further than on-the-job experience.

Here’s the big secret. It’s the thing that all negotiation research, advice and strategies eventually boil down to:

You have to believe you can do it before anyone else will.

This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.