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How To Negotiate for Women

How To Get What You Want: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiation

Do you feel like you’ve been going above and beyond to support your company but that, despite all of your effort and positive impact, you aren’t being given the resources or benefits that you deserve?

Often women view better assignments and opportunities as a reward for doing a good job, and so they put in work and wait for their efforts to be recognized. This approach can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress and frustration. Nobody is going to be a better advocate for your needs than you are. Rather than relying on others to offer you what you want, it pays to take matters into your own hands and ask for what you deserve.

This seems really simple. So why don’t more of us do it? Many women fear that they’ll come off as greedy when asking for more, leading to social backlash that could negatively impact their future career success – and they’re not wrong to feel this way. Studies show that both men and women managers are less inclined to work with women who negotiate – and to label them as pushy, demanding, aggressive, or bossy. Yet, despite this, we know that negotiation is crucial to advancing women leaders. What’s a woman to do? Fortunately, by making a few adjustments to your negotiation strategy, you can combat the effects of bias and drastically increase the chances of getting what you want.

Step 1: Recognize Opportunities for Negotiation

We often think of negotiation as an intimidating, formal activity reserved for annual reviews or promotions, but in reality, you probably already negotiate every day. Any time you have to reach an agreement with another person, whether it’s convincing a coworker where to order lunch or settling on a price when buying a second-hand item, you’re putting your negotiation skills to use. Keep an open mind and remember that there is so much more that can be negotiated than your salary. Look for everyday opportunities for better assignments, more resources, or more flexibility. For example, Sarah, a sales manager in a recent HNS Accelerate cohort, was asked to cover for a marketing colleague going on maternity leave. While a great opportunity to grow her skills, Sarah knew it would be stressful to manage two full-time positions. Her HNS coach helped her realize this was an opportunity to negotiate. As a result, Sarah talked to her manager and got several projects taken off her plate. She also asked for extra time off at the end of the assignment, which her boss happily agreed to. Sarah learned to ask for what she needs and the company gained a manager who’s now motivated instead of burnt-out. In what ways could YOU be better supported by your organization?

Step 2: Know Your Value

Many women have a tendency to underestimate their worth. Don’t sell yourself short! Do your research to see what others in similar positions or with comparable experience are being offered. Make sure you’re clear on your strengths and how you uniquely contribute to your organization. Collect data and gather objective performance measures that highlight your impact and support why you deserve what you’re asking for. This will allow you to negotiate from a place of strength and to make a compelling first offer. Research shows that when a candidate made the first offer in a workplace negotiation, the outcome was 30% higher. Your initial offer will set an anchor that influences the rest of the conversation, so don’t be afraid to aim high and ask for more than what you’re actually expecting. Prepare multiple options and know what you are willing to concede.

Step 3: Frame Your Argument Communally

When men negotiate on behalf of themselves, they’re viewed as confident and assertive. However, the same behavior makes women, who we expect to be nurturing and relationship-oriented, seem less “likable” to both men and other women. Interestingly, research shows that when women negotiate on behalf of others, this social backlash disappears and their performance is enhanced. How can you connect your ask to the needs of your company? When preparing for your discussion, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and really seek to understand their goals, needs, and fears. How can giving you what you’re asking for also help them? What fears might they have and how can you allay them? As Sheryl Sandberg puts it, “think personally, act communally.” In other words, ask for what you want, but frame it in a way that shows you care about the needs of your larger team and organization.

Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you’ve clarified your ask and built your case, it’s time to practice! Have a friend sit down with you and stage the negotiation so you can practice making your case and work out any kinks ahead of time. Play out possible scenarios and rehearse how you will respond. If you really want to take it to the next level, record your mock negotiation so that you can look for anything that detracts from your presence such as fidgeting or using passive language. Taking time to practice will help you feel confident and be less emotionally reactive during your real conversation.

Step 5: Make the Ask

Now it’s time to put all of your hard work and preparation to use! Begin by framing the negotiation as a cooperative effort and acknowledging the other person’s time and presence. For example, you might say, “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. I’m confident we will reach an ideal solution together.” Make sure that your body language and tone also convey a sense of openness and collaboration. Keep your arms uncrossed, your body oriented towards your negotiation partner, and seek to combine assertive statements with smiles and friendly gestures.

Open the negotiation by asking confidently for what you want and explaining why it’s warranted and how it benefits the larger organization. Allow your manager the opportunity to process your request and respond. Many people feel uncomfortable in silence and will begin to undercut themselves. Don’t make this costly mistake.

If you receive pushback, listen with openness and curiosity. Probe deeper into their concerns by asking open-ended questions such as, “What part of my proposal gives you the most concern?”. At best, you can address their hesitations and further prove your case. At worst, you’ll be able to take note and develop constructive responses so that you’re better prepared next time. Timing is everything in negotiation, so if you don’t get exactly what you wanted, don’t be discouraged. Use what you learned from the conversation to rethink your offer and prepare for a future follow-up discussion.

Don’t let another moment go by waiting for others to reward you with the opportunities and resources you deserve. Adopting a communal negotiation strategy can eliminate backlash, enhance your performance, and increase your chances of getting what you want. We leave you with this challenge: flex your negotiation muscles by setting a meeting with your manager to ask for a resource, opportunity, or adjustment of responsibilities. Experience the exhilaration that comes from being your own biggest champion!

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