Know Your Value—and Then Grow It, Says Mika Brzezinski

The “Morning Joe” cohost wants women to step out of their comfort zone and negotiate for what they’re worth

By Christina Folz Jun 30, 2015
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Mika Brzezinski

Mika Brzezinski, cohost of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television show

LAS VEGAS—It took Mika Brzezinski 25 years into her journalism career to understand what she truly wanted to do: “I want to teach each and every one of you to know your value and communicate it effectively.” That was her key message to attendees at the June 30, 2015, general session of the Society for Human Resource Management 2015 Annual Conference & Exposition.

It was a lesson she learned the hard way. When she began working on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television show nine years ago, she compared notes with her co-host, Joe Scarborough—the conservative yin to her liberal yang on the program—and learned that he had signed a contract to make 14 times more money than she would earn to do the same job.

She came to realize that she had sold herself short—not just in that situation but throughout a long career that has included roles as a news correspondent at CBS, a contributor to “CBS Sunday Morning” and “60 Minutes,” and a reporter for “NBC Nightly News.” And she vowed to help others avoid the same fate.

That’s what inspired her to write a book, Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth (Weinstein Books, 2010), which details her professional journey to achieve more equitable compensation. While targeted to women, the book—and Brzezinski’s lessons—are relevant to anyone who struggles with negotiating effectively.

“Whether you’re a man or woman negotiating … you don’t want a bargain,” she said. “You want a good fit. A good fit and a fair deal is what you want to accomplish on either side.” The book triggered the beginning of what Brzezinski calls the “know your value movement,” which is focused on the issues and challenges that surround hiring women. “It’s about finding the best female talent … [and] keeping the best women from leaving.”

In her newest book, Grow Your Value: Living and Working to Your Full Potential (Weinstein Books, 2015), Brzezinski takes that movement to the next level, challenging women to continue to invest in themselves, take professional risks, and communicate their worth. Here, too, she has led by example, expanding her enterprise far beyond her initial vision. In addition to her books, she has created a “Know Your Value” partnership with NBC that includes a website, blog, events across the country, and a video competition in which the woman who communicates her value most effectively is awarded $10,000.

Some of the tips Brzezinski shared are:

Stop being so polite. Brzezinski got a strong dose of Scarborough’s negotiation style, which involved liberal use of the “f-bomb,” by observing him on the phone. She was amazed to realize that, not only did that approach not get him fired, it enabled him to close a good deal for himself and the show. While she doesn’t advocate yelling and cursing, she believes that women should stop being so polite. “Women need to get over being grateful,” she said, and understand that organizations are lucky to have them. “I’m sorry” is another phrase to keep in check. “How many women have used the words ‘I’m sorry,’ today?” she asked. “You’re all liars. You’re not sorry. Why are you undermining yourself at the beginning of the conversation?”

Press reset. “Men have an unbelievable talent of forgetting everything [when they negotiate],” Brzezinski said. They only remember what’s relevant to the task at hand, she added, and they control the discussion. Women, on the other hand, tend to remember every interaction they’ve had with the person on the other side of the table. “Learn to press the reset button,” she said. “Shape the conversation. Walk in with a clean slate.”

Don’t play the victim. Don’t approach a negotiation by trying to make people feel sorry for you. Brzezinski asked the audience of HR professionals how they react when people tell them they want more money because they can’t pay their bills. Instead, women should ask for more because they deserve more—and bring the data to prove it. “No one wants to know our issues. Stop that chatter.”

Do not underestimate the power of silence. When the chatter stops, the quiet can become uncomfortable—and that’s OK. In fact, Brzezinski advises learning to use awkward silence to your advantage and leave people wanting to know more. “If there is absolutely nothing you need to say or you need to reset, shut your mouth,” she said. “And I mean that with all due respect.”

Christina Folz is the editor of HR Magazine.

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