Speaking up is hard to do. I understood the true meaning of this phrase exactly one month ago, when my wife and I became new parents. It was an amazing moment. It was exhilarating and elating, but it was also scary and terrifying. And it got particularly terrifying when we got home from the hospital, and we were unsure whether our little baby boy was getting enough nutrients from breastfeeding. And we wanted to call our pediatrician, but we also didn't want to make a bad first impression or come across as a crazy, neurotic parent. So we worried. And we waited. When we got to the doctor's office the next day, she immediately gave him formula because he was pretty dehydrated. Our son is fine now, and our doctor has reassured us we can always contact her. But in that moment, I should've spoken up, but I didn't.
But sometimes we speak up when we shouldn't, and I learned that over 10 years ago when I let my twin brother down. My twin brother is a documentary filmmaker, and for one of his first films, he got an offer from a distribution company. He was excited, and he was inclined to accept the offer. But as a negotiations researcher, I insisted he make a counteroffer, and I helped him craft the perfect one. And it was perfect -- it was perfectly insulting. The company was so offended, they literally withdrew the offer and my brother was left with nothing.
And the range of stories are varied and diverse, but they also make up a universal tapestry. Can I correct my boss when they make a mistake? Can I confront my coworker who keeps stepping on my toes? Can I challenge my friend's insensitive joke? Can I tell the person I love the most my deepest insecurities?
And through these experiences, I've come to recognize that each of us have something called a range of acceptable behavior. Now, sometimes we're too strong; we push ourselves too much. That's what happened with my brother. Even making an offer was outside his range of acceptable behavior. But sometimes we're too weak. That's what happened with my wife and I. And this range of acceptable behaviors -- when we stay within our range, we're rewarded. When we step outside that range, we get punished in a variety of ways. We get dismissed or demeaned or even ostracized. Or we lose that raise or that promotion or that deal.
Now, the first thing we need to know is: What is my range? But the key thing is, our range isn't fixed; it's actually pretty dynamic. It expands and it narrows based on the context. And there's one thing that determines that range more than anything else, and that's your power. Your power determines your range. What is power? Power comes in lots of forms. In negotiations, it comes in the form of alternatives. So my brother had no alternatives; he lacked power. The company had lots of alternatives; they had power. Sometimes it's being new to a country, like an immigrant, or new to an organization or new to an experience, like my wife and I as new parents. Sometimes it's at work, where someone's the boss and someone's the subordinate. Sometimes it's in relationships, where one person's more invested than the other person.
And the key thing is that when we have lots of power, our range is very wide. We have a lot of leeway in how to behave. But when we lack power, our range narrows. We have very little leeway. The problem is that when our range narrows, that produces something called the low-power double bind. The low-power double bind happens when, if we don't speak up, we go unnoticed, but if we do speak up, we get punished.
So we need to find ways to expand our range. And over the last couple decades, my colleagues and I have found two things really matter. The first: you seem powerful in your own eyes. The second: you seem powerful in the eyes of others. When I feel powerful, I feel confident, not fearful; I expand my own range. When other people see me as powerful, they grant me a wider range. So we need tools to expand our range of acceptable behavior. And I'm going to give you a set of tools today. Speaking up is risky, but these tools will lower your risk of speaking up.
The first tool I'm going to give you got discovered in negotiations in an important finding. This is sometimes called "the mama bear effect." Like a mama bear defending her cubs, when we advocate for others, we can discover our own voice.
But sometimes, we have to advocate for ourselves. How do we do that? One of the most important tools we have to advocate for ourselves is something called perspective-taking.
Here's another way to be assertive but still be likable, and that is to signal flexibility. Now, imagine you're a car salesperson, and you want to sell someone a car. You're going to more likely make the sale if you give them two options.
Now, another time we feel more confident speaking up is when we have expertise. Expertise gives us credibility. When we have high power, we already have credibility. We only need good evidence. When we lack power, we don't have the credibility. We need excellent evidence.
So when a scene calls for it, be a ferocious mama bear and a humble advice seeker. Have excellent evidence and strong allies. Be a passionate perspective taker. And if you use those tools -- and each and every one of you can use these tools -- you will expand your range of acceptable behavior, and your days will be mostly joyful.