I was chatting with a Worth Project member about a frustrating experience getting her oil changed (is it never not a frustrating experience?). She was really annoyed because she didn’t think they did a good job and now she was stuck driving 40 minutes out of her way to go back to her old mechanic that she trusted. Annoying.

As we were laughing about her ridiculous situation, I asked, “well if you were really upset about the job they did, did you at least ask for a discount?”

She stopped laughing and said “no.”


“I didn’t know I could.”

That’s something that I hear all the time. When we’re being hired for a new job, it seems pretty logical that we can negotiate. When we’re being promoted, there’s a chance we might see it as an opportunity to negotiate.

But when you’re unhappy with your service and you’d like a discount? Or when you’re joining a gym? That’s when things start getting murky.

And that’s just the beginning. There are so many other situations where you can negotiate but on the surface, they don’t seem like opportunities to negotiate:

  • When you want to work from home
  • When you want to work more flexible hours
  • When there is a project that you really want to work on
  • When you do or don’t want to travel for a job
  • When you’re trying to get a (slightly nonfunctional) team to work together

The list goes on.

There’s nothing that says we can’t negotiate in those situations. But unfortunately, there’s also nothing that says you can negotiate in these situations. And as a generalization here, women tend to follow the rules.

You’ve likely heard the statistic that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the criteria but women only apply when they meet 100% of the criteria. A lack of confidence is often attributed to that statistic.

But Tara Sophia Mohr points out that it may not only be a confidence issue, it may be a rule issue as well. Women may see “required qualification” and think “rule”, which leads them to not want to break it. That ‘follow the rule’ mentality that was rewarded in grade school can have real costs in our adult life.

That ‘follow the rules’ mentality that was rewarded in grade school can have real costs in our adult life.

I’ve been really interested in this idea of uncovering the hidden rules that we impose on ourselves and situations. The things we just assume to be fact, when in fact they aren’t anything at all.

I got the opportunity quickly to push myself to identify the “rules” that I was imagining to be true. Two days later I was looking for some maintenance work to be done on our house. We had been using the same company for a while, but I didn’t need the full-service package they were offering. I called to see if they offered something smaller. When I was told that they only had one service level, I took this to be a rule. I started looking for another company that might better fit my needs.

As soon as I realized that I hadn’t explored the conversation further, that I was just upholding a perceived rule, I called back. I explained the situation, used some super basic negotiating techniques, and I now have a different service option that is 25% less expensive.

They kept a customer and I got exactly what I needed. It was a win/win.

This is a small, basic example, but sometimes that’s the best place to start. When you’re learning to swim you don’t just dive into the deep end and see if you can figure it out. Starting small with this conversation is the equivalent of wading around in the shallow end. It’s my doggy paddle. Breaking down the “rules” that I’m blindly obeying, so I can feel comfortable challenging and speaking up for bigger and better things.

To start challenging your internal rules, to get you ready to negotiate anything, start small. Start with one bill, one purchase, or one simple ask.

What did you not think you could ask for?

Identify it. Is it really a “rule”? If not, push on it a little. Can you ask for something different? Something small?

Once you start challenging and breaking down these rules you may just notice that there are fewer of them standing in your way and that you’re more comfortable speaking up when you think there might be a chance you could ask for something different. When bigger opportunities come along, it won’t feel as intimidating to ask for things head on.


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