Want to Make More Money? Start Rewriting Your Story.
Asking for more money is hard. It makes you examine your value and challenges your inner self that shouts, “Don’t be too pushy and don’t ask for too much.” A successful negotiation begins way before you walk into that meeting.
Words and story are power. When you start thinking about negotiating for more money, what words come to mind? For me, uncertainty, trepidation and dread are big winners. Pop open a new tab to Thesaurus.com and see how many different words you can find to describe what you’re feeling. My guess is that most of the words you come up with will all be synonyms for fear.
Humans have four base emotions: happiness, sadness, anger and surprise. These primary colors then mix to create the complex human emotion rainbow. Even though we generally don't use the term fear in our daily language, it’s fear that will either help or hinder us in that negotiation meeting.
The stress response, what we sometimes refer to as flinch or freeze and fight or flight, gets fired up in all of us when we perceive fear. The important word here is perceive. This is where our relationship with our fear stories comes in: both those that we’ve been told and those we continue to tell ourselves.
We have two types of fear: factual and fictional. Factual fear is in the moment -- actual threats to our survival. Fictional fear is all the stories we make up in our head about what could happen in a future that may never exist, and it's where the power to change our future resides.
Like all the best fairytales, fictional fear usually sprouts from a seed of reality. So, before you can rewrite your story, you need to find out where it came from. Can you recall a time when you asked but did not receive? I’m not talking about missing out on space camp (me!) -- I’m talking about a time you asked for love, kindness or acceptance from someone who should have given it to you freely, but didn’t.
You probably have more than a few stories where you felt devalued or rejected. I know I do. So which one of those is knocking at your door right now? This is important because until you get a handle on the fear stories you’ve been telling yourself, you’ll keep on telling those same stories -- which, to be honest, isn’t going to get you where you want to go.
For example, a fear story I carried around for ages came from childhood (don't they all!) when my mom would refer to successful businesswomen as “rich baboons.” She didn’t really use baboons, but what she did say definitely started with a B. As a factory worker, my mom saw businesswomen as arrogant and bossy (another B word that gets thrown around). I heard this story a hundred different ways, from my third grade PTA meeting into adulthood when I became one of those rich baboon businesswomen.
But even as I garnered success in my industry, I would constantly over-give and under-ask. My inner good girl said, “See, you don’t have to be afraid of becoming one of those rich baboons because you give freely and never ask for more.” By not negotiating my worth, I felt safe.
Clearly this story was in desperate need of a rewrite if I was ever going to be financially successful. One of my favorite ways to do this is what I call the Fairytale Rewrite. What makes it so powerful is it helps you pull the “I, me, my” out of the story that's making you feel stuck and afraid.
Begin your story with, “Once upon a time,” just like a classic fairytale. It may seem a bit silly, but this will help turn your deeply personal history into a new story full of possibilities. So, actually write down, “Once upon a time...” and then start filling in the details of your fear story by turning the “I, me, my” statements into “her/his, she/he, or they” statements, where you’re the all-knowing narrator, ready to make improvements. Same story -- different perspective.
Here are the first few lines of my Fairytale Rewrite.
Once upon a time, a loving mother warned her young daughter against the evils of the Rich Baboon Kingdom, which was foreign and distant to her and everyone she knew. To live in the Rich Baboon Kingdom meant to leave the safety of home, which her mother feared the most -- to lose her daughter to a world she didn’t understand. To keep her safe, the mother fed her dark and terrible stories of the Rich Baboon Kingdom that the young girl took as truth.
Rewriting it in this way let me see that my mom’s bias was rooted in her own fear, which made it easier for me to stop the never-ending replay and start negotiating for better compensation.
Even if you don’t practice the rewrite, just identifying your fear stories will help provide you with more confidence so you can not only ask, but receive your true worth. As the creators of our stories, we all have the power to write new ones with better endings. So, what ending do you want to write?
(By Mary Poffenroth. Poffenroth is a biology lecturer and fear researcher for San Jose State University. She advises growth driven individuals and organizations on how to reshape their relationship with fear to cultivate better decision making and deeper cross-discipline collaboration.)