Why Being Assertive Backfires (And What To Do Instead)

When asking for a raise, you might thing you have to muster up the courage to transform yourself into "an assertive woman" to pull it off. And that doesn't appeal, right?

Well, good. It won't work well, anyway.

Why Being Assertive Backfires

Among the many fears women have in negotiating a pay raise is that if they assert themselves and ask, they will reap negative repercussions.

In fact, negotiation researchers have shown that this does happen to women!

Consciously or not, individuals show biased behavior toward women who don’t conform to expected social norms that say they are expected to be nice, not aggressive, or even assertive.

But here’s encouraging news: there are research-backed tactics, behaviors and conversation styles you can use to help prevent negative repercussions when meeting with your manager.

Put them all together to transform your next performance review and master the pay raise conversation with confidence!

There’s a lot to this, but for now, let’s take a quick look at ways to prevent resistance when asking for a raise. Instead of being assertive, here's what to do instead:

Use “Social Softeners” When Asking for a Pay Raise

The behaviors and conversation styles that prevent negative responses and repercussions have been labeled “social softeners.” Here’s a quick summary of some of them:

  • ​Be likable. Be nice. Smile.
  • Adopt a warm, friendly, social style.
  • Substitute the word “we” for “I” whenever possible.
  • Be appreciative, cooperative and considerate.
  • Be confident, yet non-confrontational.

This list skims the surface of the topic; we take a deeper dive in the Salary Accelerator Course where I’ve culled the research so you’ll know the specific behaviors and conversation styles that get agreement. For now…

​Try This Experiment

​1. Choose a situation at work where you have to ask for something that you want (other than a raise). For example:

  • approval to attend a professional conference, all expenses paid
  • approval to hire more help or purchase equipment
  • approval to take every other Friday off

2. Then, along with presenting your business case, use the “social softeners” listed above when making your request.

3. Observe the response and the results you get.

This is useful practice for future negotiations of any kind. Give it a go and let me know what happened.​