Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Get more by caring less

As I write the new edition of Mojo Mom, I have been thinking a lot about negotiation skills. After all, working with a spouse or co-parent is all about negotiation in the long run. (Sorry, Disney Princesses and Bridezillas--it turns out it's not just about romance and having a fantasy wedding after all.)

The negotiating principle that sticks in my mind is that the impatient person loses. That goes a long way toward explaining why women often have less bargaining power than men. We may feel that we have to be impatient if we want to have a baby. We have the biological clock, and as that runs out, our options narrow in a way that a man's does not. In the case of a woman convincing her male partner that they should have children, an urgent desire on her part also weakens her relative bargaining power--she may feel that she has to make more lifestyle accommodations than her husband to secure his agreement to have kids.

One thing I appreciate as I get older is that I feel less impatient. I am more confident in what I want and I am willing to state my position and stick to it. Have you ever found that when you turned down a job offer, you were offered an attractive counter-offer to win you over? When you negotiate a salary, it helps to feel that the employer is fortunate to get you, rather than feeling that you are extremely lucky to get this particular job. I worry that women get emotionally attached to opportunities and therefore have less power in a negotiation. This is especially true in first jobs: when women accept lower starting salaries, the pay gap continues to grow when subsequent raises are based on a percentage of that starting point.

It is liberating to negotiate from a non urgent, take-it-or leave it point of view. Once I was buying a Honda Civic that I knew I wanted, and the salesman was jerking me around, so I started to leave. I wasn't jerking him around in return, I was truly walking out the door intending to go buy a different car. This got under the salesman's collar and he chased me down in the parking lot, a little more willing to give me a good deal.

I reached the place of negotiating peace in an important discussion with my husband. At the risk of over-sharing, I thought this was an interesting situation. We have decided that our family is complete and that we'd rather not risk a surprise pregnancy as I enter my forties, so after many years of being open to more kids, I looked for a new form of birth control. I had good reasons to try it, but my body is not adapting very well so far, so I am thinking of going off it again. I decided that if birth control was going to make me feel constantly crummy, I could accept our unlikely odds of a surprise pregnancy, and asked my husband what he thought. In reply he volunteered that he was willing to explore his birth control options.

After being the primary person in charge of contraception, pregnancy, birth and caregiving all these years, it was such a relief to feel that he was finally the one ready to step up the plate in this situation. It goes to show that even in cooperative negotiating situations, it can be helpful to care less about the specific outcome than your partner. A weird concept for many Moms, including me, but it's essential--especially when you are trying to get your partner and kids to participate in housework. If you care about it a lot more than they do, and can never outwait them, you'll end up doing the lioness' share of the work.

In the new Mojo Mom I am drawing on the ideas in Rhona Mahony's book Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power. It's a somewhat obscure book and not entirely accessible, but brilliant and provocative. She delves deeply into the balance of power in different types of couples. A take-home message is to always keep investing in your own personal power and options.

To prepare for salary discussions I highly recommend the book Negotiating Your Salary: How To Make $1000 a Minute.

Now, I am back to work on the revisions.....

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Blogger blue milk said...

I really enjoyed your reflections as a woman entering her 40s - I'm in my 30s but I like the idea of being more sure of myself and less afraid in the next decade.

I've wrestled with this issue a bit and thought about it a lot -
"A weird concept for many Moms, including me, but it's essential--especially when you are trying to get your partner and kids to participate in housework. If you care about it a lot more than they do, and can never outwait them, you'll end up doing the lioness' share of the work." - women, in part care more about housework because it is women and not men who will be judged by those around them for the state of their house, and the cleanliness of their children's clothes etc. Also women, having acquired infinitely more experience with and understanding of the tasks of domestic labour and their interconnectivity, are more likely than men to appreciate the full consequences of letting something go, or doing a half hearted effort with it, that it can create more work down the track - which means women can be inherently more invested in the outcome of the negotiation because they know what's at stake. Men can bargain harder because they aren't concerned by the wider implications.

Anyway this is getting to be a long comment and who knows if it even makes sense now.

Enjoying your blog.

9:00 AM  

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