Women! Don’t Be Afraid of Negotiation

July 31, 2014


Years ago when I started freelancing, I found negotiating around money to be next door to impossible. I stammered, turned red, looked at the floor. I was afraid to ask for “too much,” afraid I would be called out as a fraud or outright rejected. I was afraid they would think, “How dare she?” And I would never get any work, ever again.

I knew I was good at my craft, writing and editing, but as a woman in this culture, I was brought up to understand that it was not my place to demand. On the contrary, I was supposed to give, not get, and to nurture and protect relationships at all costs.

Other women have similar problems with negotiating. A yoga studio owner I know told me she wonders if there are unspoken rules around negotiating that she doesn’t know, and she worries that she will offend. “I was brought up to be a nice girl, to not rock the boat, to not upset anyone,” she says.

According to a 2012 Linkedin survey, fewer than 26% of women feel comfortable negotiating compared to nearly 40% of men. A Forbes article about the survey states: “Women are concerned that negotiating—or any sign of resistance—with a manager could tarnish a long-term relationship. When confronted with that scenario, many women choose to forgo their own agenda (whether a salary increase or desired promotion) in order to protect workplace relationships.”

The rewards of dancing

Aside from the obvious—more money, better benefits, a more desirable outcome—there are other good reasons to learn to negotiate. Researchers say that negotiating actually improves relationships, and that when done appropriately, it is more likely to increase happiness than cost you a potential job, current job or contract. Plus, you will be furthering the cause of women and helping to close the salary gap between the genders (yes, it still exists).

If you are a woman who finds negotiating a challenge, reframing the process may help get you started on the right foot. For example, try and see negotiation as a dance, as a collaborative outcome. In this scenario, women’s superior empathetic and relationship skills can actually help them become better negotiators.

“The irony is that women have been socialized in certain ways that make them quite good negotiators, if you can get them to do it. The biggest hurdle is usually persuading them to try,” observes Jennifer Allyn, a managing director at PriceWaterhouse Coopers, in this Fortune article.

It might also help motivate you if you recognize that when you stand up and negotiate for yourself, you are sending signals to the organization, to people around you and to the society at large that women deserve equal pay, recognition and success. Think of yourself as a pioneer and a role model, acting on behalf of others, not just yourself.

3 tips to get what you want

  1. Research. In the book Negotiation Genius, the authors state the biggest mistake people make when they enter negotiation is a lack of preparation. Do your homework, and get clear about what is a realistic outcome, and what you want to achieve from the negotiation. Know what your bottom line is, and what you are willing to give up or trade to get more of what you want. The more prepared you feel entering a negotiation, the more confident you will be.
  2. Practise. Role play the negotiation, write down your arguments, imagine various responses, from worst-case to best-case. And remember the saying that, “perfect is the enemy of good.” Do not attempt perfection, to get exactly what you want. The goal here is to get more comfortable with the art of negotiating. More great ideas on effective practice can be found in this article on negotiation by FreshBooks’ own communications director.
  3. Breathe. While practicing, and before the actual negotiation, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Imagine breathing into the bottoms of your feet, feeling them on the floor. Keep doing this until you feel calm and centered. Deep, conscious breathing is a great way to ground yourself, and to disperse anxiety. You may also want to repeat some positive affirmations: “I deserve to be paid XX dollars. I will conduct a successful negotiation.”

Reality begins in the mind. Create the reality you want by thinking positively, believing in yourself and negotiating your way to success.

Check out these resources to improve your negotiation skills

1. Training women to be leaders: Negotiating skills for success

Gender disparities in negotiation have serious implications for organizations—resulting in pay and promotional inequalities, as well as costly employee turnover. Organizations that create an environment receptive to women who negotiate and encourage women to ask for what they want have a genuine competitive business advantage. In this free special report, Training Women to be Leaders: Negotiation Skills for Success, negotiation experts offer advice on how organizations can encourage women to be more effective at the bargaining table. Throughout the report, you will discover what holds women back from asking for more, how women can overcome gender backlash, and how to deal with chauvinists.

2. Negotiating Salary 101: Tactics for Better Compensation

Concerned about compensation? Arm yourself with data from Job Search Intelligence, which the US Department of Labor says offers the most accurate salary information available. The salary calculator gives you a personalized compensation value to take to your negotiations. Use this tool to guide the conversation to get the compensation you deserve.

3. Negotiation Genius, by Deepak Malhotra, Max H. Bazerman.

In reality, everything is negotiable. Negotiation geniuses are folks who know how to spot negotiation opportunities when others do not. In this well thought out book, Malhotra and Bazerman use real world examples, combined with decades of behavioural research, to illustrate specific negotiation strategies you can learn and apply in your own personal and professional life. The one commandment the authors insist upon, however? Do not lie. Malhotra and Bazerman demonstrate throughout the book how truthful negotiation is always best road to take.

4. A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating, by Lee Miller and Jessica Miller.

Most negotiation books are written for men so the advice is tailored to the male instinct for power and outcomes. Women have a different set of innate skills, however, and they benefit from strategies that effectively harness their strengths for persuasion, collaboration, and creative thinking. This father-daughter author team explain the eight most common mistakes women make when negotiating, and provide clear and actionable advice for avoiding them.

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about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.