There are perhaps, few more difficult negotiations in business than a salary review, particularly if you are not the person conducting it but the one hoping/asking for an increase1.
Even the best of us find it intimidating because past actions, interactions, successes, and failures are all under the microscope. How easy it is to feel wrong-footed and inadequate. How easy it is to let personal power slip away.
Unfortunately for many of us, those kinds of feelings are all too familiar and not limited to yearly salary reviews. They’re there every time we kowtow; say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’; are overly flattering; agree to terms we know are fundamentally unfair; agree to things that will make our lives unnecessarily difficult; smooth the waters at our expense just to keep the peace.
Most of us had to give up power during our formative years or in our early careers. The thing is ‒ we don’t have to let what happened back then run the rest of our lives. If we pin-point those ‘giving-up’ experiences and understand the reasons ‘why’, we’ve made the foundational steps to reclaiming and becoming truly powerful.
To that end, we put the following questions to three colleagues.
- When did you first give your power up? How old were you? Who did you give it up to? And why?
- As an adult, what is the biggest amount of power you ever gave up? Why did you think you had to do that?
- What would happen if you never gave up your power again? The worst thing? The best thing?
Here are their responses. See if their answers trigger yours.
Leslie, a 39-year-old consulting-firm partner
When I was little, I gave up my power to my older sister who was jealous of me. If I didn’t acquiesce or give in to her demands, she would hurt me ‒ physically. Needless to say I always gave way.
The biggest amount of power I ever gave up as an adult was to a bullying male boss who, now that I think about it, was eerily similar to my sister. They had the same seething intensity and bore-into-you eyes.
I’m already a strong person, to be even stronger would attract too much jealousy.
Sanjeev, a 45-year-old negotiation expert
My father was an unpredictably violent man; my older brother: rebellious. I saw what kind of trouble that got him into, so I became the pleaser ‒ the good boy who studied hard; never ever caused trouble; never made mistakes. It was a good strategy in that it kept me safe, but the cost to me as an adult has been high. First of all I didn’t develop the toughness…the mettle you form when you stand up to authority. And secondly I find that far too often I’ve handed my power over to people who want to intimidate or control me.
It would be fantastic to never give it up again… to never feel less than or try to make myself smaller than I really am. I know I’d respect myself more. The downside is I might upset some people; I might encounter more conflict in relationships and some relationships might end. I might stop working with some clients and experience a loss of revenue. And if I lose revenue, I might have to sell my house and my marriage might end and I’ll end up being unloved and alone.
Victor, a 34-year-old technology VP
The first time I remember it happening was in fourth grade. I don’t think my new teacher was accustomed to kids who were really smart. A few weeks into the school year, she started rolling her eyes, looking exasperated, or sighing when I put up my hand to answer a question. It was subtle intimidation and it worked; the other kids began to see me as a grandstander and then a nerd. I became a loner and stayed that way all through school.
Though I’m successful in business and have lots of acquaintances, I don’t have any real friends. I think it’s because I keep to myself, and maybe it’s also because the one friend I finally did make, burned me on paying back a large personal loan that I offered in order to be seen as a regular guy.
Not giving up personal power would mean socializing more; making friends. My fears are that I’d be shunned again.
Our challenge to them?
Choose one day in each of the coming weeks (They can be different days ‒ a Wednesday one week; a Saturday the following one). That’s the day you’ll refuse, quite stubbornly, to give up any personal power or feel less than anyone else.
Don’t aim for perfection; instead, track the thoughts and feelings that tempt you into old patterns and notice what it’s like to feel powerful.
The gauntlet’s been thrown; and like the three people above, it’s in your power to pick it up. In our next Newsletter issue, we’ll tell you about the results our colleagues were able to achieve via their experiments.
1. Top 10 Difficult Conversations: New (Surprising) Research, article by Chartered Management Institute.
Thank you for sharing the notion of first recognizing that we give up power depending on our life circumstances and sometimes for self-preservation – so well illustrated by the three individuals. who responded. This does trigger self-reflection. Great article
Dear Irene, Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, and apologies for my long-delayed reply. I’m glad you found the article useful and that it triggered self-reflection for you. Excellent! Very best wishes, Peter.