Ask For It Summary and Review

by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
Has Ask For It by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. In most cases, when a woman is said to be asking for it, it’s not being said in a positive light, and the outcome is never a desirable one. This book summary, however, will display that asking for it, rather, is about taking control of your life and making strides toward what you deserve. Furthermore, it will guide you through the process of negotiation and tackle some common issues that women face, which will allow you to be better equipped when it comes to asking for a raise, or even having a discussion with your partner over, for example, whether you should get a cat or a dog. Being able to effectively negotiate is a useful skill in many situations, both big and small. Perhaps more importantly, learning how to negotiate will not only help you to have better relationships with the people around you, but also with yourself. In this summary of Ask For It by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, you’ll find out:
  • how the TV show The Closer relates to negotiating salaries;
  • what the difference is between male and female perspectives of the world; and
  • what a BATNA is and why it’s useful.
Ask For It Key Idea #1: Figure out what it is you want from your life by asking yourself what’s missing. As children, we often got asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, and even now, as adults, we still get asked the same question. Unfortunately, for most of us, the answer isn’t always easy. In particular, it’s often difficult for women in todays world to separate their true desires from what they’ve been told by others that they should want. This is due to the fact that women are often socialized in such a way that makes them act according to what’s expected of them, rather than being encouraged to follow their actual desires. For example, Vanessa, a friend of the author’s, wasn’t sure what career she wanted to pursue after graduating college. Both her mother and sister, however, had become teachers, so she thought it fit to follow the same path. The only problem was, once she actually entered the profession, she discovered that it wasn’t quite the job for her. Vanessa knew she needed a change, so she closed her eyes and tried to imagine what it was she truly wanted from a career. She saw herself working outdoors, among nature, and realized that she’d truly like to work in a garden, which prompted her to then go on to start her very own landscaping company. In order to figure out what it is you truly want from life, a good place to start is by asking yourself what’s missing. One way to do this could be to figure out what some old activities were that you used to partake in and enjoy. Michele, another friend of the author’s, used to work as a principal. While she had a good job and a loving family, she still didn’t quite feel fulfilled. Looking back at her childhood, Michele remembered that she used to enjoy drawing and sketching. It turns out that creativity was missing from her life, so she signed up for drawing classes, which allowed her to rediscover a favorite hobby. Because of this, Michele’s life was able to grow more balanced and therefore, full of happiness. Once you figure out what it is you want, you’ll be ready to learn to take control of your life. In the next book summary, let’s have a look at making that happen. Ask For It Key Idea #2: It’s often believed by women that they have no control over their lives, and therefore, they don’t ask for raises. Picture yourself in a fancy hotel suite that includes everything you need in your room – a comfortable king-size bed, a large TV, a handsome desk, a cushy armchair, scented candles, and so on. Everything except for a bathrobe. Oftentimes, many women would simply accept this circumstance, even if they would really want that bathrobe. Why is that? There was a series of studies during the 1980s and 1990s that revealed the real reason behind this. This research showed that women tend to believe that life is controlling them more so than they’re controlling their life. On top of this, the studies discovered that women often chose to deal with the present unpleasant situation with no complaints, rather than believing that they could have an influence over the outcome. On the other hand, men looked at the world as a place of opportunity that could allow them to freely benefit. These results were not only shown to be consistent in the US, but also in a handful of countries around the world, such as Britain, the Netherlands, Brazil, and India. This disparity between women and men is global, and has tangible outcomes – namely that not enough women are asking for raises. Psychologist Lisa Barron conducted a study in 2006 which tested how the difference in this mind-set played out in the workplace. Male and female participants were asked if they agreed with the following sentence: “I decide what my value in the workplace is and I am responsible for ensuring that my employer pays me appropriately.” Interestingly, results showed that 85 percent of men agreed with the sentence, while only 17 percent of women found it to be true. Barron’s conclusion from this study was that women have a tendency to measure their value based on what their employers paid them, which made it so that they never had any concerns about their salaries. In other words, women don’t ask for raises as often as their male counterparts. This shows that it’s necessary for women to start rethinking about the way they interact with the world. The belief that a person has no control over their life can lead to an imbalance of power, making it so that the employer has the upper hand in determining an employee’s worth. More than anything, this belief rests on the false assumption that the salaries employers assign are done so in a fair and just manner. In order to make sure that you’re paid fairly and appropriately for your job, it’s important to know how to negotiate a salary. We will take a closer look at this in the next book summary. Ask For It Key Idea #3: Negotiation happens every day, it’s best to be prepared for it. When you hear the word negotiation, what comes to mind? The first things most people think of are likely business meetings, political debates, and structured agendas. However, most negotiations occur in more informal settings. In fact, negotiations happen every day. Negotiation, at its core, is a tool people use to help bring about change when the outcome they desire depends on the cooperation of other people or parties. This change could be something as simple as requesting that your salad come without croutons, or something that requires a bit more discussion, such as asking your boss for a four-day work week rather than five. But whatever it may be that you’re negotiating, no matter how small, the same basic rules remain: don’t bully or lie. Instead, it’s important to communicate in an intelligent manner. This means actively listening to the other person, exchanging information, and becoming aware of all risks involved before you land on a solution. In order to learn how to negotiate successfully, it’s necessary to carefully prepare. Professional negotiators say that considering future scenarios is advisable, in case you run into some unexpected obstacles during your negotiation This means that, before you start negotiating, you should plan your BATNA, or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Then, you can use your BATNA after you fail to reach your desired outcome in a negotiation. For example, in negotiating a starting salary at a new job, it’s smart to have a backup employer, so that if you don’t land your desired salary, you’ll still have your alternative employer. This is also important because telling your interviewer that there is another company interested in you can be beneficial to your negotiation. The trick to successfully negotiating is knowing how much to ask for, which we’ll look at in the next book summary. Ask For It Key Idea #4: When negotiating, make sure you don’t ask for too much, but don’t undervalue yourself either. People think that being good at negotiating means you need to know how to bluff. However, unless you have an expert poker face, there are plenty of other, much less risky skills you can use to get the same outcome. In fact, the most powerful asset you can have during a negotiation is information. In order to be a successful negotiator, it’s important to have in mind which requests are reasonable, and which simply aren’t. For instance, if you’re requesting a 15% raise in your salary, which your boss denies, is there a reason to stop immediately at his denial? Absolutely not. But if you show your boss data that shows that the average salary for a person in your position is 15% more than what you’re currently earning, you’ll surely get your boss’ attention. In order to truly increase your success, it might be valuable to gather information on salaries from firms in direct competition with the one you work at. This means that you’ll then have evidence that other people in the exact same position as you are definitely getting paid more than you are, so you won’t get discouraged quite as easily when your boss turns your original proposal down. It’s definitely important to be reasonable with your negotiation, but make sure not to undervalue yourself either. When you try to think about what you might want from your job, you might actually find yourself undercutting how much value your work has. Deep down, you might have the goal of moving up a rung in the corporate ladder, and yet, only ask for a 5% salary raise. Instead, consider making a bolder move. Once again, information is crucial when it comes to asking for more. The author conducted some studies which discovered that a lack of information actually resulted in women underestimating their abilities and talents. When negotiating their end-of-year bonuses, women averaged 19% less in comparison to men. However, when negotiating their entry level salary, women did perform better—only 6% less than their male counterparts. This is because information on starting salaries in many industries is more readily available. Since women tend to underestimate their value, it’s incredibly important that you consider asking for more, rather than less. Ask For It Key Idea #5: When negotiating it’s also important to pay attention to what’s important to the other party. When we’re asked to focus our efforts toward one specific task, it’s quite easy to overlook the obvious. There was a well-known study in which participants were asked to focus on certain details of a basketball game. Doing so somehow distracted them from seeing a person dressed in a gorilla suit walking across the court! In a similar way, in negotiation, you might end up missing crucial information when you’re too focused on your own goals. To illustrate this point, we learn about Twyla, a friend of the author’s and an aspiring director trying to make her first ever movie. She was inspired when she came across a novel that depicted a family that had to deal with the devastation that came from a recent hurricane. She ended up then reaching out to the author of the novel, and after considering how much she’d be willing to invest, made him a generous offer for the rights to the story so that she could turn it into a film. However, the author was more concerned with the creative manner and accuracy with which his story would be told on screen, rather than how much money he could get from it. However, because Twyla was so focused on the financial aspect of the film, she failed to see how this crucial bit of information from the author could actually land her the rights to the story. So, it’s vital that you figure out what it is the other party might want as well. Again, this requires gathering information. A good example of this is to look at Ericka, an assistant buyer at a homeware store, who was seeking a promotion. Her proposal, however, was turned down by her boss. This didn’t stop her, though. She then decided to gather some information from her colleagues, which lead her to learn that a renowned cooking equipment store would be opening soon on the same street. She assumed that her boss would want to stay in equal competition with this new store, so Ericka decided to study everything she possibly could about luxury European kitchen equipment. After doing this for a year, she approached her boss once again, with the intent of getting promoted, and focused on the fact that she’d become an expert on luxury kitchenware, which prompted her boss to then, finally give her the higher salary. Ask For It Key Idea #6: Being in cooperation is better than being in competition, so it’s important to see the interests of everyone involved. Showing that you have interest in what others want, in conjunction with creative solutions, teamwork, and attentive listening are qualities that women tend to possess. These are qualities that are also important in the world of negotiation, which means that it actually makes sense for women to be master negotiators. When negotiating, it’s important to remember than cooperation with the other party is actually much more effective than competition. Cooperation will show the other party that, although you’re negotiating with them, your main goal is to actually benefit both parties. this takes us to your classic win–win scenario. To illustrate why cooperation is the better approach, let’s imagine a couple of newlyweds. We’ll call them Sophia and James. This new husband and wife want to travel for a week together, but they can’t seem to settle on a destination: Sophia wants to relax on the beach, while James dreams of a rustic camping trip tucked away in the mountains. How should they go about making a decision? One way to go about this is a win/lose situation where they will have to sacrifice one person’s wishes for the other. The second option is a compromise that will involve dividing the week between staying on a beach and camping in the mountains, which is not exactly what you’d call a relaxing holiday! In the third option that they have, they’ll have a win-win situation, in which Sophia and James will pay close attention to each other’s wants and needs. This means that they’ll come up with an end solution that will benefit both of them, such as a vacation in Costa Rica, where there are lots of beaches as well as hiking opportunities. Effectively negotiating requires cooperating with the other party, but also requires consideration of the interests of everyone involved. This is known as interest-based negotiation, a type of negotiation that takes everyone’s interests into account so that you’ll be able to come up with the best solution. It’s the opposite of position-based negotiation, a type of negotiation that relies on defending your position on a matter. The author herself is a good example of the effectiveness of an interest-based negotiation. When she was a staff member at Heinz College, she was offered the position of chairwoman of a committee, who would be responsible for the future of the college. When she was offered this position, however, she was busy writing a book. In order to make the best decision for both parties, they each took the interests of everyone involved into account to come up with a win-win situation: the author would reduce the courses she taught, which would allow her to have time to run the committee and finish writing her book. Ask For It Key Idea #7: Unfortunately, it’s still common for women to feel that they must watch what they say. By now, it’s more than clear that women are capable of negotiating just as men are. The reality is, however, that women must still monitor how they communicate. Alexandra, another friend of the author’s is a good example of this. She is a popular designer with good interpersonal skills, and she applied for a job which had a better-paying salary than the job she was working at the time. The salary range was $42,000 to $60,000, and due to her experience and success, Alexandra felt confident in asking for $58,000. Because she asked for the salary in a firm and direct manner, the hiring manager immediately doubted that she had the ability to be a team player. What was the reason for the manager’s assumption? It was because Alexandra came across as too strong and aggressive. The problem is that coming at things with this kind of confidence is risky in male dominated industries, which makes it necessary for women to be diplomatic. While it isn’t fair, and really is quite annoying, women will actually be more successful if they communicate in a pleasant manner. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to give up or back down. It simply means that it might help you to use a friendlier tone and act mindfully, so that your body language ensures positivity and kindness. The author conducted a study in 2007 that consisted of recording videos of interns applying for a new job, with the goal of verifying this idea. In the study, some interns were bold and aggressive when it came to bringing up their pay expectations. Participants in the study were asked to then watch the videos and decide who they would hire and who they would reject. It turned out that female interns who acted in a bold and aggressive way when it came to their pay were 50% less likely to be hired, regardless of the gender of the participant making the decision. Conversely, if a male intern was more aggressive and bold, his actions were excused and his behavior was deemed assertive, but only if the participant was also male. Females evaluating male interns weren’t as lenient. In the end, this simply means that women should try to communicate in a more pleasant and less threatening way, in order to increase their chances of success in the workplace. Ask For It Key Idea #8: When it comes to negotiation, it’s important to remain focused on your upper target and be patient. There was a television show from 2011 called The Closer, and it was so titled because the main character, who ran a police department, was skilled at closing elaborate criminal investigations. Now, it’s time to dive into a few finishing moves that will make you the closer in every negotiation. First, it’s important to keep your attention on your upper target. More specifically, this means keeping your focus on the best possible outcome of every negotiation situation. Studies carried out in 2002 by psychologist A.D. Galinsky found that focusing on your reservation value (your minimum target) will more than likely end the negotiation in a way that involves you agreeing to something that will actually cause you to lose money. On the other hand, this means that people who focused on their upper target performed better in a negotiation due to the fact that they negotiated something higher from the start, allowing more time to pass before coming to the end agreement. Furthermore, these studies found that this difference in focus actually impacts salaries by 11-13 percent. People who aimed for their upper target ended up earning $34,500, as opposed to those concentrating on their reservation value, who earned $31,000. Taking time to reach your desired outcome is also important. Don’t let anyone push you around. In order to make sure that you’re the one in control of the direction of a negotiation, be sure to be the one managing the speed of the negotiation itself. It’s important to allow all parties to have enough time to express their interests and concerns because this will allow you to get a broader understanding of the whole situation. Next, state your offer clearly and calmly. Before even going into a negotiation, it’s important to have already practiced doing so. Then, ensure that you listen attentively to the other party’s reply before taking a deep breath, organizing your thoughts, and making the next move. When it starts to get to a point where you feel that you’re losing control of the situation, perhaps getting too emotional, make sure that you slow down the momentum of the negotiation. It’s okay to ask for a pause, or to kindly let the other negotiator know that you feel a bit rushed, and that you would like some time to go over the points you’ve already made. Keeping all of these tips in mind next time you enter a negotiation will make it so that you will more than likely walk away triumphant. In Review: Ask For It Book Summary The key message in this book: While negotiation is something people experience every day, many women find it a difficult task to undertake. It’s important for women to learn how to successfully ask for what it is they want, and do so in a way that will increase their chances of success. This means preparing oneself to collaborate with other people, taking the other party’s interests into account, and paying close attention to the manner in which you’re communicating, while making sure you don’t sell yourself short. Actionable advice: Don’t drop your prices too low, too early. Let’s say you want to sell a used car on Craigslist. You put up $14,500 as your initial sales price, to which a buyer would make an offer of $12,000. Now, it’s important to make sure your rebuttal isn’t too low. If you come back with a price that’s too low in the first round, it’ll send the buyer a signal that your reservation value is low, therefore encouraging the buyer to expect that the price will drop even more. Instead, you should respond with an offer of $14,000, indicating that your reservation value is somewhere around the $13,500 mark. This will then prompt the buyer to make you a better offer if they truly are interested in the car.