I’ve shared many times on the Self.Styled.Life podcast and in my journal about the common self-protective behaviours. Six of these behaviours were introduced to me by the awesome Sas Petherick and they include people-pleasing, paralysis, perfectionism, procrastination, proving yourself and passivity. We spent a full month formally studying these behaviours in Sas’ self-belief coaching accreditation program. I added polling to the list after seeing it show up time and time again in my corporate life. And now I have to add this eighth behaviour – pre-empting. 

So what is pre-empting? Well for me it shows up as women protecting themselves from the psychological risk of things like disappointment, rejection, judgement and failure by making a decision that takes them out of the game. The example that springs most easily to mind is women withdrawing from a process before any decision has been made. But other examples include over sharing before a negotiation has started and my personal fave – not asking for what you want, because you’ve decided you already know the answer. And you’ve decided that answer will be no, you can’t possibly have what you want

Women don’t want to feel the feels that come with the seven big psychological risks. Actually no, let me reposition that – nobody regardless of the gender they identify with – wants to feel those emotions. So it makes complete sense that our brains would jump into crystal ball mode and decide they know the outcome before any question, process or negotiation has actually occurred. Which leads us to pre-empting a decision that we won’t be successful or get what we want and ultimately results in us taking ourselves out of the game before anyone has to say no to us, or deliver some other sort of difficult message. 

Learn more about pre-empting on the podcast

I shared all about this emerging protective behaviour in a recent podcast episode. You can listen to the episode here, or on your favourite podcast player.

Continue reading about pre-empting below

The biggest problem with pre-empting comes from the fact that when you pre-empt you’re ignoring the fact that everything in business is a negotiation. When you pre-empt, you completely sidestep the art of negotiation. Negotiation requires one party to offer something. That might be an employer offering you a new position. Or it could be you asking for a pay rise or a flexible work option. Once the offer or ask is in play, then the other party has the opportunity to say yes, no, or make a counter offer. The backwards and forward continues until we reach a clear outcome.

Pre-empting sees you racing to the outcome without the negotiation. You decide that the other party will say no. And that it will be a firm no to your requests. And because you’re so sure they’ll say no you either play your cards too early, withdraw from the negotiation (whether you realise you’re in a negotiation or not) or fail to ask for something you want.

My favourite personal example of pre-empting occurred last year, in 2021. I knew I wanted to spend more time in my coaching practice. But I also wanted to keep working in my transformation role for a large Australian Bank. I really, really wanted the best of both coaching and corporate, which for me looks like working 4 days per week in corporate and 1 day a week coaching.

But I pre-decided that outcome couldn’t be a thing. I came to that conclusion on my own, without any input from my boss. You see, I just knew he’d say no. In fact, I was completely certain. I’d informed my husband, my best friend and my coach of the outcome. Truth be told, I probably even told the cat that my role is a big one, and that no one would say yes to a program director showing up 4 days a week. I was adamant about it. 

Thank goodness it eventually occurred to me that I’d made the decision without actually asking my boss for his thoughts. When I finally chose to have a conversation, I was surprised to learn that my boss not only thought I could fulfil my role working 4 days a week, but offered to find me a mentor to help me navigate my big job on a reduced working week. The answer I thought he would share was so different the actual answer – I seriously could not have been more wrong. He didn’t even need time to think about it…he agreed to my request on the spot.

Almost 12 months down the track, I shake my head about how wrong my pre-empting was, and where things might have landed if I hadn’t stopped thinking I knew all the answers and actually engaged in a conversation. 

My personal story is an excellent case study in avoiding negotiation by not asking a question or making an offer. Other examples include not asking for a pay rise, or a sabbatical, or not asking for your employer to pay for coaching or education. 

Don’t show your cards too soon

The second big way I see women pre-empting an outcome and that one is showing your cards very early in the game. And potentially before the negotiation has even commenced. 

The most common example I see on this front is when women apply for what are advertised as full time jobs when they’d actually prefer a part time role. Now, many people would say, call the recruiter and ask if there’s an option for flexible work. If the answer is no, then move on and don’t apply.

However, I take a different view on this one. Recruiters are often far more open to flexible work options once they’ve seen the candidates applying for the role. And this is especially true if you end up being their preferred candidate. I’ve agreed to all sorts of terms to get a preferred candidate to join my team. Same goes for getting a valued employee to stay on my team. If you’re in the market for a new role, and you reach out early to let the recruiter or prospective employer know that you’d prefer part-time work, you’re pre-empting on a couple of fronts. Firstly you’re assuming that you’ll be the preferred candidate. And secondly, you’re assuming that they won’t say yes to your desired working arrangement. All before they’ve had a chance to say hello to you. 

And it actually gets worse, because you’re giving them potential reasons to say no to you or discount you, before they’ve had a chance to decide whether or not you’re a good fit. 

If you’ve been in my world for a while, you might be feeling confused about the position I’m taking here. But, please, stay with me. While I normally advocate for women being super up-front about what they want in life, sometimes you find yourself in situations where you need to hold back from actually sharing your desires until a later time. My people pleasers in particular found this one hard. They feel by holding back from sharing what they want, they’re wasting other people’s time. When really all they’re doing is engaging in the art of negotiation. 

Stay in the game

My final example of pre-empting comes when women withdraw from the race before the decision makers have had a chance to decide. Most commonly, this one looks like withdrawing an application of some sort. That could be for a job, a development or training program, a transfer to another country, a request for long-term leave or maybe a career related award. 

The pain that comes along with hearing a no – all that disappointment, rejection, failure and judgement – can be seemingly reduced or even avoided if you make the call to take yourself out of the game before anyone else does. If you withdraw, you can’t fail or be rejected. Judgement no longer matters. And you get to manage the levels of disappointment. 

But here’s the trick. When you decide not to chase your dreams, you still end up feeling disappointed or like a failure. The only difference is that you delivered those outcomes to yourself. And you completely cut off the possibility of the joy and excitement that comes with success. Yes, you avoid disappointment, rejection and failure. But you also miss out on the feelings that come when someone picks you. When you take yourself out of the game, you guarantee you won’t win. And that comes with it’s own pain – either in the form of an inner critic who wants to berate you for quitting or the nagging feeling that you’ve still not met your potential. 

So with all of that insight into pre-empting, what do I recommend you do instead? Well, I strongly recommend you stay in the room. Keep playing the game. Stay curious, treat the whole experience as an experiment and an opportunity to learn. Please don’t make any decisions for others. In protecting yourself from risk you’re also ensuring that you miss out on joy, satisfaction and all of the positive feelings that come with success.

I‘d love to know. Have you ever use pre-empting as a protective behaviour? Feel free to share in the comments below.

And until next time – stay fabulous xx

Image credit: Haute Stock

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