If you think about it, we’re negotiating on the job all the time. Whether we’re asking for the big promotion, the funding to attend a training or conference, or to take a vacation during “busy” season, we’re in more bargaining situations than we realize at work.
Women, in particular, need as many negotiation tools as possible, given that we’re still paid less than men for equal work, and don’t have a critical mass―and therefore equal decision-making authority―at the top of companies. Consider the following strategies the next time you enter a negotiation at work, and remember, real-life practice is the very best preparation for negotiating!
Do Your Homework
Before a negotiation, take the time to organize yourself from an informational standpoint. Write out why you are negotiating for whatever it is, and the reasons for it. Then begin to assemble any supporting research. The more relevant research you have, the better you will feel about your argument and the more compelling your case will be.
So, if you were going to ask for an assistant, for example, you might do research within your company to see what the standard criteria is for hiring an assistant. How many people does an assistant typically support? How senior does one have to be to have an assistant? What kind of revenue does a department have to produce in order to justify having an assistant?
You can also do benchmarking outside of your company to see how your competitors configure their work units and the employment of assistants. Outside of supporting research, you could think about how an assistant could help your team add or create new value for your organization. Many employers think of value in terms of numbers, so is there a way for you to quantify the value and contributions of what you are negotiating for? Get familiar and well acquainted with this research, as mastering your data will help you be more creative and improvisational on the spot.
Keep Your Cool
It is worth noting that walking into a negotiation without having done preparation or review of the issue at hand can be disastrous, as can spontaneous or emotion-driven negotiations. The better prepared you are in terms of the facts and your demeanor, the more successful you are likely to be. One strategy for keeping your emotions in check is to be prepared, perhaps even over-prepared, for a negotiation from an informational standpoint.
I recommend striving for a composed balance between energized and relaxed. Negotiations can feel confrontational to many women, so filling yourself with positive, empowering messages in advance of the negotiation can do you a major service. Above all else, decide that you have a place at the negotiation table and a right to ask for what you want. If you become fearful, remind yourself of what prompted you to ask for the negotiation in the first place.
Separate for yourself the person you will be speaking with and the problem you are trying to solve—they are not the same. You can boost yourself up emotionally by dwelling on your strengths and abilities; concentrate on several of your past successes to increase your confidence and optimism. I also encourage you to invite a trusted friend, partner, classmate, mentor, or colleague to role-play the negotiation with you in advance.
Use Strategic Questioning
While you are negotiating, use the technique of asking questions, preferably open-ended questions, which can be very powerful. These questions open up dialogue and can even buy you more time if you need to gather your thoughts. These questions, some examples of which are shown below, help guide and move the conversation along.
- Can you explain how you arrived at that solution?
- How are decisions like these determined?
Are you willing to negotiate that point?
- What is keeping us from coming to an agreement?
- How could I help you feel more comfortable with this request?
- What is most important to you? Can you explain why?
- How can we move forward?
- How can we best . . . ?
- How can we make this work for both of us?
- Is that the best you can do?
- What is the cost of us not coming to an agreement?
Silence is Your Friend
Silence, though not something we are well accustomed to in American culture, can be one of the greatest negotiation strategies at your disposal. When we are silent, we are not over-promising or under-selling in ways we will later regret, instead we are giving ourselves the precious gift of time and space. Silence affords us the luxury to contemplate our next move during a tricky or emotionally draining negotiation. While it can be tempting to fill in gaps in conversation, it is important to find ways to practice and get comfortable using silence.
Silence can have an effect on others as well; for one, it tends to make people uncomfortable. It can make your counterpart share information, restate their position, or try to guess what your position is. Each of these attempts to break the silence put you in a more favorable position. The strategy of silence is especially important for women to use since they may be tempted to accommodate their counterpart, fill a conversation void, or not want to seem “difficult” or withholding. The next time you are in a negotiation situation, experiment with being quiet rather than speaking up right away or thanking your counterpart. Silence can give you power, as well as valuable time to process the bargaining conversation. Using silence can feel awkward at first, so I urge you to practice this technique before a negotiation!
Take a Win-Win Approach
Outside of asking powerful questions and using silence well, I recommend that you look for a way for both parties to win. One of the women executives I interviewed on this subject, Roxanne Spillett, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, advised, “…Look for a ‘win-win’ in relationships and negotiations. Every time you think there’s a ‘win-loss’ situation, look for ways to make it mutually beneficial. It is always better to leave something on the table in a negotiation than to walk away with everything. This is a pretty important practice as a leader.” Coming up with creative solutions and concessions can certainly show your willingness to get to common ground in a negotiation.
Use questions to understand your counterpart’s needs, and then reiterate those needs and look for a way they can be met, preferably without your conceding something. If you must concede something, negotiate to get something else back. Since women are adept at reading body language and nonverbal communication, I recommend leveraging that skill to interpret cues such as discomfort or concern.
This is an excerpt from “The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School,” a new book by Selena Rezvani. Selena serves as the president of NextGenWomen, LLC, where she works to propel more women into top leadership through one on one coaching, corporate consulting, and training.