Let’s talk about money.
For most people, that topic alone is enough for the brain to have a reaction. If we add a layer of talking about money as part of a negotiation or an assessment of our own value, we might get a heightened reaction from the brain – and maybe from the body as well.
Why is this topic so charged?
Let’s start with the brain. When we engage in conversations, especially those involving finances, our brain’s social circuitry lights up. This mental map includes the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making, and the anterior insula, and that is tied to empathy and emotions.
But what about talking about your own value? When you’re discussing money that is related to you, such as negotiating for work or a large purchase, your brain and body often get involved. You might notice your heart starting to race, or your stomach tightening, or you feel hot or sweaty all of a sudden.
The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that money means more than math when our sense of value is tied to the outcome.
Being uncomfortable, however, is actually a good sign of a productive conversation. Let’s talk about why.
A sense of safety and security is part of our hard wiring that looks for clues on how to keep us, and our community, safe. Money is the modern currency that is a key indicator of how secure we feel about our circumstances and sometimes our ability to control those circumstances.
When discussing money – either what we might get or what we might spend – there is a risk of, well, risk. The fear of rejection or the desire for financial security can trigger stress responses in the brain, and that releases cortisol and adrenaline.
These are hormones that you actually feel in your body. In addition to the physical reaction, our anticipation of the outcome could cloud our judgment and affect the way that we communicate in the moment. We might find ourselves tongue-tied or start talking too much or talking too fast. That’s when your brain and body are anticipating a potential negative outcome.
For the purpose of today’s conversation, I’m offering two questions that might be able to help assess those times where you are looking at value vs. money. Remember, money is simply math, so value becomes important because it shows the invisible lines around your personal comfort zone. And once you have a handle on that, it’s harder to be pulled into a sliding scale of someone else’s price point.
The first question is: Are you willing to be uncomfortable for a few minutes?
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who just got a job offer. He was really excited about the company and the opportunity, but the salary was lower than what he had been making before. He had wanted to let them know that he was excited, but he also wanted to see if there was more. We were talking because I had spent several years leading a global recruiting team at a large company, so we talked about a few ways he could introduce the conversation and see if there was room.
One of my favorite ways to ask for something extra is to say: “Is there any flexibility in this?”
It’s a softer opening to, hopefully, a dialogue about what’s possible vs. sounding like an expectation. In this case, my friend was able to go back and forth with the company and received an extra $20,000 in total compensation. A few minutes of feeling uncomfortable in asking for more led to a really pleasant outcome for him. Not every ask will return the answer you want, but not asking is a missed opportunity.
The next question is: Are you willing to give yourself a raise?
By this, I mean are you willing to ask for more than what feels comfortable? Let’s use an example. Pretend you are being asked to do something for an hour. The ask is professional vs. personal. So this isn’t someone you know who is asking. They explain what is needed and ask what you want to be paid for the time.
Take a moment right now and think about what you might answer-one hour. I know it depends on what it is, but let’s assume it’s something you know how to do and are comfortable doing.
Now add 10% to that number. So if you would ask for $20 an hour, add $2 and make it $22.
How comfortable are you with saying $22? Ten percent isn’t a lot, but it is like asking for a raise but in this case you ask for it first instead of waiting to receive it later.
Keep going on this. Would you ask for $30 an hour? $40?
I was in a group one time when my business coach asked this of another entrepreneur. He kept increasing the number until she stopped him.
“Oh, no,” she said at one point. “That number you just said makes my stomach hurt.”
“Good,” he said. “Now add 10%.”
Fear + 10% that is an important indicator, not from a financial perspective but from a psychological one. Understanding where you feel physical resistance is like turning a flashlight on your value menu. Whenever you find yourself in a conversation about money, knowing this internal line will help as you assess the math in the moment.
On the other side of resistance, is your passion point. Last week, I negotiated four different business deals. Each had varying degrees of budget, so the final agreements were based on math – not value.
But as humans, it’s easy to get pulled into assigning how we are valued by looking at what is and what is not being offered. In those cases, I ask myself this: would I be willing to do the effort for free?
That really helps me look for where I am passionate about the contribution beyond the price tag. Because in those cases they were coming from professional sources with set limits on the math. Would I be excited to stand up there and work with these people for free? And in each case the answer was a very clear “yes.”
So to recap, asking yourself if you’re willing to be uncomfortable during a conversation and asking yourself for a raise are two ways to explore your comfort zone around value.
There are many situations where money won’t be in our control, but our value always should be. All of us are worth more than math. A little discomfort from time to time might be one of the best investments you ever make.