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Why Women Don't Ask: The Negotiation Dilemma

Are you nervous about negotiating? You’re not alone.

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Source: 123RF purchase

Are you nervous about negotiating? You’re not alone. Many women express apprehension and extreme discomfort at the thought of having to negotiate. Some women never negotiate. Women tend to choose to negotiate less than men. Even when they are aware of the potential benefits (like a bigger salary), they often decide not to negotiate. Anxiety takes over.

Women worry about their skill level. “Will I succeed? Will I fail? What if I make a mistake, what if I give in, or what if they take advantage of me?” Women tend to be afraid of losing their friendship or relationship with the other person. What if I ask for too much money? Will they still like me? If the other side is angry or mean toward me, will my feelings get hurt?

For some women, it’s almost like they need permission before they can request more. Some may lack confidence or not have enough self-esteem to realize that they should be asking.

It’s not wrong to have some fear. Studies show that after negotiating, a woman’s coworkers sometimes ignore her or give her a negative label.

Asking requires action. It’s being assertive. Others may view the assertive behavior as unfeminine and may label her for that, too. It’s not always pretty. It’s a risk. But so is sitting back and choosing to do nothing.

According to Kathleen McGinn, a Harvard professor who researched negotiation, women do better when negotiating on behalf of others than for themselves. McGinn noted that the negotiation tends to be “demasculinized” when the woman feels that she’s working for her group instead of grabbing everything for herself. Regarding salary negotiations, McGinn knows that women may be afraid of being seen as aggressive, but “the perception of you if you don’t negotiate is much more negative than the perception of you when you do negotiate.” Look at your situation. Keep the end picture in mind. We give you permission to do what’s best for you!

Good News! Negotiation Skills Can Be Learned

Learn to negotiate. Start small and work your way up to the big-tag items. In a 2007 issue of Negotiation magazine, Iris Bohnet and Fiona Greig, both at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recommended that workplaces offer negotiation courses to benefit women and men. They found that women seemed more comfortable negotiating items related to where and how they spend their time, and men were more comfortable negotiating items related to their salaries and other finance-related items. Companies can support the integrative style that lends itself more to asking questions, listening, learning interests, and maintaining the relationship[md]areas where women tend to excel.

Don’t Wait; Negotiate

First do your homework and be prepared. Know your goals and what you want to achieve. Know what you are willing to give up or trade in the discussion. Know as much as you can about the other side’s goals, positions, and interests before the meeting. Here we’re looking at a win-win negotiation in which both parties can walk away satisfied. Understand the differences between your positions and your interests.

Select a time and place for the negotiation. Depending on the topic, consider bringing others with you to the table.

At the negotiation itself, treat the other side with respect at all times. Work on mentally analyzing what the other side is telling you and reevaluating your views based on the new information you receive. Use the brainstorming technique to generate options. Don’t feel pressured to cave. Most of the time, you don’t have to make a decision right then and there. If you need more time to think over the options and offers, say so.

If the other side wants to play rough, you don’t have to reply in the same manner. In fact, it often helps to keep a cool head and show that you won’t move to an aggressive stance. Avoid personal attacks.

Fisher and Ury recommend continuing to get at the interests behind the attack. Ask why or why not. Remember, the other person is focusing on the ideas, not attacking you personally. Use silence and pauses in your responses to help slow the pace and calm things down. If the negotiation gets too rough, you can always stop the session and request that the meeting be rescheduled. Restate that you have both parties’ interests in mind for a mutually agreeable settlement.

You can find plenty of books and courses on negotiation, including some in this book’s Resources appendix. Your business may offer a workshop on the topic. Or you may have a local woman’s chamber of commerce or women’s business association that offers courses to help.

Adapted from Audrey's co-authored book, Code Switching: How to Talk so Men will Listen

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