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Pushing Women Past the Fear of 'No'

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Sunday, February 3, 2008; Page K01

With women earning college degrees and promotions in record numbers, do we really need yet another book telling us what we're doing wrong at work?

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Especially one that refers to us as girls?

Ordinarily, I would say no, but the "The Girl's Guide to Kicking Your Career Into Gear" by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio qualifies as an exception. The third installment in their "Girl's Guide" series offers a practical overview of what it takes to translate smarts and ambition into workplace success.

Great careers rarely happen by accident, Friedman and Yorio point out. "If you want to be happy at work, the first step is realizing that your career is worth planning for," they write. It's also worth fighting for. You have to go after what you want, without letting fear of rejection keep you down. "A lot of people are afraid of hearing the word 'no,' " Friedman said in a recent interview. "Instead of asking for something, they just resent not getting it."

Yorio and Friedman's advice is aimed at helping "girls" of all ages avoid that resentment and develop careers they love. That includes women who might otherwise bristle at being called girls beyond their Scouting days. "We don't really attach any baggage to the word girls," Friedman said. For her, it feels inclusive, like chatting with your girlfriends.

"The Girl's Guide" contains many useful tools for women struggling to figure out what they want and how to get it, including how to handle some of the biggest obstacles they are likely to face. Lessons about the importance of assertiveness and flexibility are underscored with stories from Yorio and Friedman's lives, as well as those of dozens of other successful women they interviewed while writing the book. "All of our books were inspired by our professional experiences," Friedman said, which have included major career changes for both women.

Some of my favorite advice from the book:

Don't be afraid to negotiate. "Whether you notice or not, you negotiate almost every single day," Friedman and Yorio point out. "Weaving in and out of traffic is a negotiation with other drivers, navigating busy supermarkets, passing chores back and forth with your partner, all unremarkable yet familiar negotiations that hopefully don't get confrontational." Yet for a lot of women the thought of "negotiating" inspires dread. They tiptoe around it, hoping that if they just work hard enough, eventually their bosses will recognize their effort and give them what they secretly want. It would take a lot less energy just to ask. To help them out of that rut, Friedman and Yorio spell out practical, individual strategies for asking for raises, promotions, flexible schedules and even an assistant. Even if you don't get exactly what you want, they argue, you will still benefit from the process of asking.

Don't be afraid of confrontation. Just be smart about it. "Most co-workers are not your friends, so throw out the notion of 'hurting their feelings,' " they write. Pull people aside in private and talk to them if they are doing something that hurts your work. "Keep the emotion out of your voice, get your facts right, be willing to listen and offer a solution to fix it from your end," they write. And pick your battles. People worth confronting, according to Yorio and Friedman: "credit hogs," "complainers," and "backstabbing phonies." Not worth your time: Those they dub the "crazies," "woe-is-me's" and "impossibles."

Don't let stereotypes stop you. There are still plenty of people who make assumptions about the career commitment of women, especially working mothers, but you don't have to feel boxed in by those tired beliefs even as you acknowledge they are still there. Reviewing the recent studies on the perception of women and leadership skills was eye-opening for her, Yorio said in a recent interview. Perceptions won't change overnight, but we have to keep trying.

Don't be afraid to sell yourself. Selling is what business is all about, even if your "business" is a nonprofit or government agency. "We laugh when we hear women say 'I won't sell.' You might as well say 'I won't breathe,' because the reality is that you are always selling . . . your ideas, your point of view, and your personality," Yorio and Friedman write. "Selling is the whole ball game, girls, so grab a bat."


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