Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are you worth a fish sandwich?

So I'm reading Mika Brzezinski's Knowing Your Value where she examines how women don't recognize, demand or expect to be valued for their contributions particularly in the workplace, but also in all things. I'm nodding along because I suck so bad when it comes to salary and work negotiations. In fact, I'd venture to say that I've been underpaid for every job I've ever had or ever done. And that's including all the way back when I used to pull tobacco plants for my grandpa and uncles because not only was I in there pulling the little seedlings with the other workers - mostly men - but I was also a sweet young thing providing both comic relief and eye candy. I can almost remember a time when I was pleasant to look at in short shorts and clingy tee shirts.

Anyway, I agree with Mika that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to work and negotiations. So how did this happen? Is it simply because I'm conditioned as a female to be satisfied with the knowledge that an employer appreciates me whether they're willing to pay me for a job well done or not? Do I feel so lucky to have a job that I'm willing to accept whatever I'm dealt?

Evidently, it goes deeper than that. I never learned how to successfully advocate for myself in a way that left me feeling satisfied. I avoid conflict. Rather than speak up, I take what's offered, convince myself that it was the best I could do and dive into the job or situation. Like Mika writes in her book, I figured that eventually my employer would see how valuable I was and the money would follow. At home and in relationships, I toil and give in silence until I explode or act out because no one seems to recognize all that I do for them. I know. Such a martyr. Fat lot of good it does me.

Case in point: I went above and beyond in all my jobs. In my last job, I even went so far as to do a little breaking and entering on behalf of my employer. Did that get me a raise? Hardly. When it came time to make budget cuts, not only did I not get a raise, my boss eliminated my position and I was out of a job.

Anyway, I'm in awe of women (and men) who are comfortable or at least able to know what their value is and to not only expect it, but to respectfully and successfully demand it. I would love to be like that.

In my defense, weak though it is, I come by these issues honestly. Take for example:

I spoke to my mother on Sunday and during the conversation, I asked if Dad had a good father's day. She replied that he had though they hadn't really done anything special. But then, wait, she mentioned, they did go to the Big Boy for dinner.

That sounds good. I could go for some Big Boy. Tartar sauce on cheeseburgers with some extra on the side for dipping my french fries. Mmmmmm.

Well, turns out so could Mom because when they arrived at the restaurant, they were seated all the way back and then servers walked back and forth and ignored them. Finally, they got so angry that they decided to leave. As they left, Dad informed the manager who was tending the cash register about the shoddy service and the insult of being seated in the back of the restaurant when there were plenty of empty seats near the front of the restaurant.

The manager apologized and offered them a free meal, but Dad declined. He was too angry to stay.

So you never got your meal?
No. We ended up going to KFC. But I was really looking forward to a fish sandwich.
And did either of you stop anyone as they walked by you and ask them to get your server?
Well, no, but your father did wave around my menu.
Flashy, but not so effective. So you settled for KFC after neither of you spoke up and then when you did and the manager offered you free meals, but you left to prove a point?

Yes. And besides with such terrible service, my fish sandwich would have probably been cold by the time I got it anyway.

Chloe walked into the kitchen to see me doubled over laughing. I related the story to her and she suggested that Grandpa was waving around Grandma's menu because she'd already decided on a fish sandwich and he was still waffling between the Big Boy and the Swiss Miss.

Chloe is ever so helpful. She also made me call my mother back and apologize for laughing at her frustration. That was rude of me. I'm also not supposed to be blogging about this so if you know my parents please don't tell them I wrote about this or I'll be grounded.

Passive aggression - nature or nurture?

Listen, people of the internets. I'm counting on you. If and (dare I say it?) when I get lucky enough to find my next job, will you make sure that I'm not paying the employer to let me work for them? Thank you.

Do you know your value? Do you Are you good at negotiations? If so, can you handle mine for me?


  1. I would be glad to handle your negotiations. My rate is $60/hour. You're welcome.

  2. I don't have a witty retort because this is the reason I sucked at business. I undercharged, underbilled and let clients walk all over me. I was better negotiating as an employee, but that was because the caliber of persons I worked with was generally higher than the random Joe public person you deal with as an independent business person.

  3. Such a telling story. I love how you link the behaviour of your parents to your own weaknesses. Because I made some breakthroughs like that in therapy. No joke, telling family stories and thinking about them helps us to see how those acts influence and shape our own destructive behaviours. Epiphany moment!

    I promise not to tell your mom.


  4. I'm worth at least a McDonald's fish sandwich which may or may not contain the remains of a sea creature of unknown origin.

    Business is icky like a creepy crawlie left out in the sun.

  5. Wow, I should introduce you to my brother-in-law. If he goes into a fast food place and gets even slow service, never mind any problem with his order, he marches right up and announces it to everyone within hearing distance. You'd be surprised how many "free" meals he's received with that behavior. Seriously.

    You know, there's an old saying: "The squeaky wheel gets attention."

    BUT, unfortunately, I totally understand you and your parents; I'm just like you - never speak up for myself until I literally explode with anger. Argh.

    I always thought that was a "southern woman" thing, raised to be polite at all costs.

  6. I share the challenges you wrote about here, big time. Can totally relate.

  7. I'm worth exactly $1.16. Plus tax.

    Oh, Lisa's moooom. . .

  8. While I'm aggressive as all get-out when it comes to day-to-day dealings in work/life, when it comes to things like salary negotiations/what I should get paid for a private chef gig/etc...

    ...I kind of suck.

    So, we're kind of in the same boat.

    But I'm still telling your Mom.

  9. Lisa,

    I can't speak in detail, policies and all, but I am so with you. It's impossible to break free of ingrained nurture. But you can learn to act better.
    The toughest part is that we don't leave companies, not in this market, so when we are offered something now, the employer knows they have you. When the time comes, feel free to e-mail me and if there is anyway I can help coach you, I'd be happy to try.

  10. I will be no help I completely suck at standing up for myself much less getting what I'm worth. Well, if getting what I'm worth is a family full of idiots then maybe I did do something right...

  11. For the final time, my fee is $150.00 per hour and that's non-negotiable. I'll start work when I feel like it ... also, I take 2 hour lunches and you pay for my mini-bar.

  12. I think you've got more chutzpah than you think you do. Just channel all that fury and confidence that you have while clipping coupons and direct it toward income negotiations. Go ahead, project that indignation. I bet you'll see the results in no time.

  13. There must be something in the water. I've been talking about this very thing for a good month with different people. Why can't I be more assertive? Why am I so afraid I'll piss somebody off, even if it's somebody I don't know? Why do I go around apologizing for shit I didn't even do?!

    Back when I worked, I worked 610%, sure that I'd be fired for anything less.

    I need to read your book.

  14. That is pretty much how I ended up getting paid $11.00 an hour. I took the job and was glad to have it. Now I wonder how in the world anyone lives on minimum wage. My benefits take out 2/3 of each check! since they haven't given anyone a raise in 3 years I can see nothingis going to change.

    I am job hunting again.

  15. Those who hire these days know they have the whip hand so it really doesn't matter whether you jump up and down or not. The bastards.

  16. I wholeheartedly recommend you for any job you'd like. I will also negotiate on your behalf, and send baked goods weekly to keep your office mates happy.

  17. Don't feel lonely my dear.
    The last four jobs I have had, including this one, have all gone backwards on wages.
    From 19 bucks an hour to twelve, with thirty years of experience.

    Ain't nobody hiring an old gray beard these days fer nuthin'.

    Nine years at my last job and I had a total of two and a quarter in raises, the last two years were fuck you, do your fucking job and like it.

    Umm, not so much there at the end. Fuck you, I ain't taking your bullying and bullshit. That is why there are wheels on all these fucking tool boxes full of tools that you took for granted all these years.
    Buh Bye, asshole.

  18. Back in the day I would fire off hefty retorts to anything without hardly thinking twice about it.

    But I digress. this week when we got around to replacing the roof because the ins company demanded it, and it really was falling apart....

    I came back from an errand & one of the roofers was standing on MY wooden roof on MY house, smoking a damned cigarette.

    the fiery part of me seriously considered demanding this guy put out the damned cig right now & pitch a royal fit w the owner dude.
    I'm sure some SAIF rule was being broken here.

    and then I thought about it. Is it really wise to piss off your roofing crew? It was just a 2 day gig & then they would be outta here.

    I decided I wanted a happy crew & let it slide.

    But not just a doormat..... Will I refer this company to anyone, even thought they did a good job?

    You guessed it.

    Nope. Not gonna do it.

    On the more aggressive side, the ins company said they wanted pictures & a receipt.

    I thought what fun it would be to send them 1000 pictures of *individual photos of each shingle* because, well, they asked for it-- the photos , that is.

    My way of saying here's your damned roof.

    I grimmaced when the perky clerk said " all you have to do" is send us photos & a receipt.

    Yea, Oh!
    You forgot one little detail, perky one...
    that and pony up $4500 bucks for the roof.

    So even though I toyed with sending so many photos of shingles, I stopped & thought, it's not a good idea to piss off your home ins company people. Especially when @#%% Allstate jacked up our rates 75% for no damned reason.
    WE dumped them & thknk they should change their slogan to "You're in greedy hands"

    But to think, if they could raise rates 75% for no reason, imagine what kind of rate hike pissing an insurance company off might yield???

    Am I getting soft in my old age, tired or wise, or all of the above???

  19. I have TRIED to ask for more and in my experience I have been shot down both times - even though I had perfectly VALID reasons for asking. It felt SHITTY.

  20. I've always sucked at negotiations at work as well, including with the data suppliers. I was supposed to be trying to get my company a better price but I always ended up taking the supplier's side and understanding why they had to charge whatever they did. My suppliers loved me. My boss told me to let him talk to them when negotations were needed, lol!

    But when it comes to restaurants, I have finally become a champ of self-esteem. I look around when I get there and see where I want to sit. If the host or hostess starts taking me elsewhere I say "Would you mind if we sat there?" and point to the place I had in mind. They usually say no problem and everyone's happy. Of course I didn't come on this bravery in my youth - I think I was about 45 or 50 when I started speaking up. Amazing how long we go before even just asking nicely for something we want!


And then you say....

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