How to negotiate | Penny deValk

Two Happy Business women outside the office talking to each other.

In this article I look at how and why women and men negotiate differently and its’ consequences, drawing together some best practice negotiation skills for women to consider.

Men initiate negotiations 2-9 times more often than women. Research also shows that when negotiating, women set less aggressive goals than men, make more modest first offers, and concede faster. A joint study from Cass Business School, the University of Warwick and the University of Wisconsin carried out in 2016 found that women ask for wage rises as often as men, but men are 25% more likely to get them. Linda Babcock’s research (Why Women Don’t Ask) also confirms that women feel more anxiety and discomfort than men about negotiating, they set less aggressive goals, make more modest first offers, and concede faster. The evidence to support the fact that women face numerous challenges when it comes to negotiation, is very clear.

Why is this such a prevailing issue?  Women’s confidence in their ability to negotiate is one reason; women also expect less and there is the confusing paradox of women’s negotiation attempts being judged more harshly than those of their male counterparts, by both men and women. Our culture has different standards for men and women around what is seen as ‘grasping’ behaviour.

The different importance men and women place on relationships is key. Our socialisation makes it difficult for women to ask for more, as gender roles expect them to put others’ needs first. Women worry that by really pushing they will damage the relationship, men think less about hurting feelings or damaging relationships professionally.

So yes, women are wary of negotiating – with good reason. There is a social cost of asking for more money and there is certainly an economic cost of not asking. Men simply inhabit a more negotiable world. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for women to ask for what they want and get it though. It’s about navigating the landscape skillfully. 

So what can we do about being better negotiators as women?

Raise your expectations. Before we decide to negotiate we need to be dissatisfied with what we have. Women expect less so if expectations drive behaviour – change your expectations, do your research about what you are really worth and what others are being paid or getting, to reset your expectations.

It’s not about you. Women outperform men in ‘representational’ negotiations by 14-23%. That is, when they are negotiating on someone’s else behalf. Imagine you are negotiating for someone else and consider how your approach becomes more effective.

Leverage your relationship goals.  Get your affiliative leanings working for you. If negotiating is seen as conflict and a fight, women will be even less confident. So, reframe it to be a true win/win. Make it a female advantage to focus on cooperation and relationship building.

Viewing your negotiation as problem solving and taking a communal approach is key, as clarified by Stanford Business Professor Margaret A. Neale .

Package it. Neale makes a compelling case for packaging your proposals, not negotiating issue by issue and using ‘if/then’ statements to present your “ask”. She recommends a strategic and disciplined approach that is able to clearly answer Why am I asking? How am I asking, and for whom I asking?

Lighten up. Humour can defuse tensions and cut short an adversarial approach.

Contract it out. Get an agent! Putting someone between you and the other party means you don’t have to try to manage the relationship AND the issue.

Practice. Practice asking/negotiating in low stakes environments to build your confidence, and view negotiation as similar to any other skill that you have to keep working at to see improvement. Embrace the discomfort – accept that it’s not going to feel ‘natural’, but the fear of that discomfort could come at a significant cost to you if you don’t participate.

Penny deValkAbout the author

Penny deValk is an expert on women’s leadership development and runs her own coaching and mentoring consultancy to help women achieve their leadership potential. She is an experienced Chief Executive and Non-Executive Director and has led the transformation of numerous leadership development and talent businesses over the last 20 years.

Check out for Penny’s latest blogs, podcasts, events, and resources, and to find out more about her coaching programmes.

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