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Tips for Women on How to Ask for What You Want & Deserve in the Workplace

An Interview with Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 02:  Mika Brzezinski attends L'Oreal Paris' Ninth Annual Women of Worth Awards at The Pierre Hotel on December 2, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by D Dipasupil/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 02: Mika Brzezinski attends L'Oreal Paris' Ninth Annual Women of Worth Awards at The Pierre Hotel on December 2, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/FilmMagic)

“Women apologize; they self-deprecate. The Inner Critic is on both speakers of their brain, worrying about whether or not they’ll be liked. But none of those things matter. You’re in there to be serious not to be self-deprecating. You’re in there to have value.”


By Jane Shure

When I first thought about interviewing Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, I was not aware that she was launching a new book titled Know Your Value. I had read the original version of the book in 2010 (Knowing Your Value) and have been having make-believe conversations with Mika ever since.

Know Your Value uses personal stories to explain why women are paid less and the pitfalls we face in the workplace.It also explains the research on why we hold back from negotiating for ourselves and what we can do to be better self-advocates.

Last winter, while preparing to train leaders in the Know Your Value Leadership Development Program at Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia, I pulled out my old copy of the book and re-read the highlighted sections. Immediately, I was reminded of how pivotal the book had been in getting me to ask for more of what I want.

Tips to get more of what you want @ work

Mika’s book reminds us that women are great at asking and advocating for others, but not so great when it comes to advocating for ourselves. So I decided to take on a challenge and began saying to myself: “Your step is simply to ask. Give yourself a thumb’s up for asking and practice doing it over and over again.” I knew that anything I’d ever learned in life had required repetition and the willingness to tolerate feeling awkward. When fear or discomfort would bubble up, I’d say “Hang in there. See what happens. Don’t assume your negative story is accurate. Wait. See what happens in real time.”

As I started to ask, I was astounded by how often I heard “yes” in response to my requests — be it a better rate for my office rent, a speaking event or a hotel room.

In the leadership programs I led for Independence Blue Cross, I observed the success women had when they used Mika’s tools and strategies. I heard them speaking with more positive self-talk and saying things that reflected a better understanding of the workplace. I heard: “Remember, It’s not personal, it’s business. Remember, use the ‘reset button.’” I saw first-hand how they lowered their anxiety and put a halt to predicting negative outcomes by reminding themselves that “Your Inner Critic isn’t the voice of truth.” The results of learning these strategies was that women were making more requests around money and position.

So, in trying to walk the talk and practice what I preach, I decided to ask Mika for a conversation about her book. I wanted to let her know about the work I was doing at The Resilience Group and share some of the ways I use her concepts in training leaders.

Our conversation focused on how women could become more courageous and get ahead in the workplace. The following are some highlights:

Jane: Women say: “I read your book & got a raise.” What’s helping them get a raise?

Mika: “The book gives permission to women. The tips & strategies give women clarity as to exactly the way their supposed to be asking. We need to use our voice even when we may feel afraid. We’re going to be afraid. The tips I give in the book — give permission to women to go in there and hold a position of value.”

> Jane: Mika went on to say that as women, we are much more likely to advocate for ourselves if we have a clear sense of what to say and how to say it.

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Jane: What do you mean by: “Get Out of Your Own Way: Women as their Own Worst Enemy”?

Mika: “Women apologize; they self-deprecate. The Inner Critic is on both speakers of their brain, worrying about whether or not they’ll be liked. But none of those things matter. You’re in there to be serious not to be self-deprecating. You’re in there to have value.”

>Jane: In her answer, Mika talked about our tendency to over-think and feel like an impostor. Mika’s core message is: Get clear about your value at your job. The tool of positive self-talk supports us in this effort. It helps us claim our strengths, accept our weaknesses, put things in perspective and sustain a more open and optimistic point of view.

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Jane: I love your tip to ”Press the Reset Button.” How do you explain that to readers?

Mika: “Men forget everything. We remember everything. Women get filled up with emotional information. Men are able to reset their emotions and keep them in check. There’s a certain liberation in that. Women take things personally, that aren’t at all personal.”

>Jane: In this comment, Mika recognizes that pressing the reset button is easier said than done. It requires setting limits with our emotions and a willingness to move onward. For me, it helps to notice what I’m feeling, ask questions to help me understand the feeling and then determine what I need in order to go forth.

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Jane: Mika, tell me about “Not Apologizing”?

Mika: “We need to practice “not apologizing.” I still do it! I do it less — but I still do it. After a meeting I ask myself a number of questions to help me get perspective. Did I apologize? What was I thinking that had me compelled to do that? What would have helped me to pause and not apologize?”

>Jane: Apologizing is a thing that girls do with each other growing up. We were raised to be sensitive to each other’s feelings and to apologize when we crossed a line. Saying “I’m sorry” developed as a habit and habits don’t just shake off because we want them to. It takes time and patience. It takes actively talking with ourselves in ways similar to Mika.

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Jane: Many women have a hard time speaking up on their own behalf. How do you understand that? What do you see going on?

Mika: “Women bring a lot of stress to the workplace. We have to get more comfortable talking about a host of subjects, and asking for what we want, knowing that what we hear might be a “no.” Women needto make things in the workplace more transactional, as an experience, something we’re going to do.”

>Jane: I know from my work with women, that the desire to be liked can become a liability. As girls growing up, we learned to be polite and get along with others. We wanted our parents to like us and be proud of us. Sometimes that desire for approval gave way to adulthood fears of disapproval and tendencies to take things personally.

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Jane: You’ve been known to say that CEO’s & HR leaders can’t read your mind & that it’s important to ask ourselves: What’s the worst that can happen?

Mika: “I encourage people to hang in there and tolerate the uncomfortable emotions -because they will have uncomfortable emotions. They need to hold firm to their sense of value.”

>Jane: We need to hang in there with our discomfort and support ourselves. The lesson in all of this is that we need to work at managing our negative self-talk, and ask for more of what we want. I encourage you to start asking, build that muscle and see what happens. Hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised by more positive outcomes.


Jane Shure, PhD, LCSW, co-founder of The Resilience Group, is a psychotherapist, leadership coach, and resiliency expert. Her TEDx Talk Boost Resilience: Take Charge of the Inner Critic & Inner Worrier addresses how to counteract emotionally-based thinking to boost confidence & resilience. For more about building courage, confidence and resilience, check out TheResilienceGoup.com

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