Plenty has been written about how horrid women are when it comes negotiating and why. But there is one part of the explanation that is often missing: women over-explain.
You want a raise? Good for you for asking, but you also explained that in addition to your stellar accomplishments that made the company a ton of money, you need a bigger salary because of the rising cost of living and your new baby and your mother’s health issues. None of that is relevant. So don’t share it.
Or, you mustered the guts to tell a potential client your new, higher fee, which now places you in the premium category of your industry. In addition to quoting the number you also explained away why you charge that figure and all the goals and changes in our business that require your fee, essentially undermining yourself and those very goals.
Women come to me all the time seeking advice on negotiating in business. And I find, more often than not, that they have taken a baby step in correcting the bad-negotiating plight by asking for what they want and deserve — but then lack of confidence pipes up, waves its freak flag and sabotages their efforts in a bout of blabbering explanation.
How to avoid that mistake?
Here are three main reasons I’ve found women over-explain, plus three ways to knock it off:
1. You don’t believe you’re worthy. When you follow your admirable ask with a string of qualifiers, you are sharing all of your self-doubt with the other party. It is normal and healthy to suffer bits of insecurity and self-question. But just because a script is running through your head does not mean you need to read from it – aloud and to your boss. Keep those feelings inside. Push them deep, deep down and do not let them bubble up until you are in the safe confines of the company of a good friend, boyfriend or therapist.
2. You’re terrified of silence. Years ago I read a profile of a famous old-school New York City newspaper reporter known for getting everyone and anyone to spill their deepest secrets. His secret? Sit across a table from them in dead silence. Not a peep. For minutes and minutes and minutes. The silence was so excruciating that eventually the source would burst, and out streamed juicy answers to unasked questions. The takeaway? People find silence so threatening that they prefer to risk public humiliation, imprisonment, or – in your case – shameful negotiating rather than stew in the unknown of quiet.
Why? When your boss, partner, vendor or client is collecting her (or his) thoughts, you start to fill the void with stories. You tell yourself: She thinks you’re a nincompoop, crazy to ask for so much! He thinks you’re greedy! The whole team is sitting in a circle, tossing their heads back and clenching their guts in a bout of hysterical laughter at your expense!
These thoughts are just that: stories you tell yourself. You don’t know what is going on at the other office or in the other party’s mind. Maybe in that silence the other person is scurrying to find more room in his budget to accommodate your ask. Maybe she is dumbfounded into an impressed speechlessness at your confidence and the apparent demand for your services. Or, maybe — maybe nothing is happening at all. Maybe your ask is simply way down on the other party’s to-do list and they mostly forgot about you.
3. You care too much what other people think. Not a week goes by when I don’t get an email like this – 99 percent of the time from a woman: “Hi! Sorry! Can we reschedule our meeting? I have six deadlines, my cat is going for surgery and I have the worst yeast infection EVER.”
So now you know why you’re guilty of over-explaining, here is how to nip this nasty habit in the bud.
1. Edit, edit, edit. One of the upsides of our digital age is that most communication is written — not spoken. You can and should think critically before sending an email or text. Next time you’re about to send an email that addresses a negotiation of any kind, pause. Walk away for a cup of coffee, or a whole weekend if you have the time. When you look at the message with fresh eyes, ask yourself: “How much of this missive is request, and how much of it is blathering explanation?” Be ruthless. Edit the heck out of the message. Then, edit some more. The resulting note should contain only the necessary information, unencumbered by the fluff of over-explanation. As you get in the practice of writing in concise, powerful messages, your thinking will organically follow suit. The next time you are forced to negotiate verbally and on your feet, you will be more likely to choose your words with care and skill.
2. Say your peace then be quiet. Remember that scary silence? Now that you’re aware of it, embrace it. Own it. Use it to your advantage. Here’s one of my own negotiating secrets: Lean into the silence, because the other party is likely far more scared of it than you are. I have probably made hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years by making a big ask then shutting the eff up. Let the other party squirm in that uncomfortable unknown. Nearly every time, they readily agree out of fear of what is transpiring in that void of communication. Turn it around to your favor.
3. Fake it ‘til you make it. You may not truly believe that you deserve what you ask for. That is OK for now. Asking with confidence — even phony confidence — becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Make that ask, in clear, polite, succinct language. Shut up. Then welcome the windfall. It only takes one or two of these wins before real, genuine confidence materializes.
A version of this essay originally appeared on DailyWorth.com, where I am a columnist.