Confucius Says…Cultures (and Candidates) Vary In Their Willingness to Negotiate…

Jessica Lee Compensation/Cash Money, Interviewing, Jessica Lee, Making Offers, Recruiting

Workforce is talking about the Paycheck Fairness Act. You can make up your mind on your own for where you stand. As for me? I’m honestly a bit ignorant on the specifics of the legislation. Sorry to be a total dud… but as I begin pondering it all, here’s where my mind begins drifting…

The way some folks talk about pay inequity makes it seem as if (1) some candidates are inherentlyConfucius better at and more likely to negotiate their salary (the white male in the Workforce article’s scenario) and (2) some HR pros or hiring managers will and do give in to said candidates and then perhaps "low ball" others who don’t negotiate up (the black female in that same scenario). When I step back and think about this, it seems that in some ways, we’ve got a communication problem on our hands and more specifically, it’s the effect culture has on one’s communication style. Let me speak from a personal standpoint and keep going on this one.

Me? A Korean-American gal. How I was raised? Well, my family is Korean first and foremost, and Confucianism deeply permeates Korean culture. There are influences on morality, societal norms, relationship models, family structure… or simply put, on culture. There’s that deeply embedded sense of obedience and respect to elders or authority figures. Modesty and humility are praised characteristics. And then there’s that whole collectivist attitude where conflict, competition, and self-serving behaviors are discouraged. Now translate that into the workplace!

A performance review of mine that sticks out greatly… a few years into the HR world, I had gone through a ginormous ATS conversion. My manager felt I had a lot to be proud of but as for areas of improvement, there was one little thing. She wanted me to start taking more credit and share more openly my ideas and accomplishments. I still remember her exact words. "You need to talk more about what you do and how you do it in staff meetings."

The thought of what she asked of me made me squirm. In my head, it was like she was encouraging me to be that kid in grade school who sat in the front of the class always with their hand up in the air when the teacher asked a question squealing, "Me! Me! I know the answer." I have never been that kid nor have I ever really liked that kid. I was never raised to brag, I was never encouraged to boast. In fact, instances where I might have been a little too proud? I got into big trouble. So, to my manager, I had to explain that what she was asking of me felt like self-promotion… and I wasn’t sure I could do it, because culturally, I just wasn’t raised in that vein.

I can’t and won’t make sweeping generalizations about groups of people. I have seen this same theme in others though. In interviews – the ultimate place to sell yourself? There are definitely candidates from similar cultures to mine who have a hard time putting the spotlight on themselves. They may also say "we" all the time in place of "I" because collectivism is deeply rooted in them. Or when offering a job… perhaps the candidate won’t or can’t negotiate because wouldn’t that be pushing back on an elder or authority figure? And out of respect for that figure, they might assume they are getting the fair and just offer, and that the decision maker behind the offer is using their wisdom to craft a package that is deserved.

So, for us who are pondering the Paycheck Fairness Act, what does any of my story mean? Decide what you may on the legislation, but in the meantime, think about this:

• Let’s not low ball candidates when making offers. Come with your best on the first shot, as the negotiation game is silly. Not all people can or will negotiate.

• Dig deep with candidates and be cognizant of cultural factors that might affect their communication style. Educate your hiring managers and interviewers to do the same too.

After all… Confucius says by nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart.