Against the back drop of three waves of the feminist movement, both men and women might affirm that women ask for their needs. On a more personal note, if you ask married men the same question, too many might say “They never stop asking.” And if you are a mother or have ever faced a mother trying to get what she needs for her child – you know enough to step out of the way!
It comes then as a surprise that research across age and venue finds that as compared with men, women don’t ask for what they need, often settle for what is offered and tend not to think about negotiating on their own behalf.
Prompted by her personal realization in the corporate world that her male counterparts had received promotions because they had asked, Linda Babcock, together with Sara Laschever researched the differences between men and women in negotiating for what they need. The findings reported in their book, Women Don’t Ask are relevant in understanding women, men and meeting needs in and out of the workplace.
A brief glimpse underscores the differences:
Women Asking for their Needs – A Confusing Picture
What makes the question of women asking for their needs a difficult one and the findings somewhat surprising is a mix of gender, role and cultural dynamics.
Women Do Ask – For Others
The best of what women do as mothers, partners and nest builders is ask for others. A close look even at the arguments between partners often reveals the woman asking in behalf of a child, a parent, a friend or family member.
Women often work very hard at “collecting stars ” i.e being deserving of what they want so that somehow others will give them what they need without ever having to ask. One woman who worked non-stop at home and at school was bewildered that she never seemed to get her turn – it never occurred to her to ask.
Connections vs. Needs
Women will adjust their behavior and needs to protect personal connections.
The upside to being empathic to the needs of others is the power that it brings to connections- both in the work situation and in the home relationships. The downside of women not expressing their needs at the risk of disrupting connections is that some women never find out they are entitled to have both needs and connections. Some never find out that they won’t stop being loved if they ask for themselves. Some are left feeling quite deprived.
Author, Linda Babcock underscores that from the time women are little girls they are really not encouraged to ask or aggressively pursue their needs in the same way as boys. As a result they themselves feel less entitled to ask and fear being identified as “Bitchy” or demanding if they do. The adaptation to ask indirectly for what they need or to ask for less than what they really want rarely works well.
In both work and home relationships, people are often mystified or frustrated by the lack of clarity.
“I wish she would just say what she really wants.”
“You said you wanted to stay home for your birthday – I don’t get why you’re upset.”
Complaining is Not Asking
A Paradoxical Couple Suggestion – Whereas we are always telling men to just listen without trying to solve the problem – here we are suggesting that women just say what they need without expressing all the feelings.
Catch-22 for Women
Crucial to her research findings and her thesis, Laura Babcock suggests that what has made it difficult for women to negotiate for her needs in the workplace is that she is often not re-enforced for doing so.
Babcock and others suggest that there is still a male cultural corporate bias reflected in the fact that men and even other women tend to react more negatively to women then to men who actively pursue their needs or try to aggressively ask for what they want.
The negative adaptation is to NOT ASK. The positive adaptation is for a woman to ask for and negotiate needs in a way that is authentic to her.
What Women Bring to Negotiation at Work
Bringing It Home
As much as partners feel like they really know each other, can answer for each other and can communicate with a smile or a mere glance- mind reading is not recommended as a great couple skill. In fact, the safer it is for partners to ask for what they need, the more they can trust a “yes,” live with a “no” and make sense of either – the more fulfilled both will be.
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Last reviewed: 24 Jun 2011