Negotiation for women is different. Using the classic tough negotiation skills can backfire, with the result that you don’t get what you want and you get labeled as ‘pushy’, ‘difficult’ or worse.
Happily business is changing, and negotiation is more and more seen as a collaborative process aimed at finding the best result for everyone involved. That’s a style that plays to women’s strengths.
The trick is to use the right style for the situation
The costs of getting it wrong are massive: women typically get 30% less than men do in negotiation situations. Often that’s because their starting point is lower. At the same time, there’s huge social pressure for women, particularly in macho business environments, to play to feminine stereotypes: modest, unselfish, nice.
In those ‘competitive’ business negotiation environments, it’s almost impossible for women to ‘win’ on every level.
Investment banks are among the worst offenders, with a gender pay gap of 55% and women’s bonuses just one-fifth the size of men’s. The ‘City’ is still a huge part of the UK economy and business scene, with a culture that seeps out through its supply-chain tentacles into the small business world.
So what can you do if you have to work in or work with this kind of outdated business culture?
Negotiation skills for women
Traditional negotiation techniques
• Do your research and have your facts in order. If you’re negotiating on pay or fees, make sure you have details of relevant pay/fee surveys and internal information if it’s available. If you’re buying equipment, similarly, make sure you have up-to-date details of specifications and prices.
• Understand the negotiation process. Do some training or read a good book on this (see ‘Why women don’t ask’ at the end of this article). This will increase your sense of control over the process, anticipate roadblocks, plan countermoves and resist conceding too much or too soon.
• Value yourself and/or your business. In a negotiation situation, make sure you always have at the back of your mind what is special and brilliant about you and your business. This is your bedrock. It’s easy to lose sight of, so work at it. Put together a file of affirmations, feedback, qualifications – all the good stuff. Look at it before you go into a negotiation. Remind yourself what you are worth and go into the meeting with the full expectation of achieving that.
• Sometimes, just sometimes… it’s easier all around to not bother and get a male partner or relative to do it! I confess I do this with some car repairs or purchases. Being sold top-of-the-range racing tyres for my sedate hatchback was the last straw.
The big problem with the competitive approach to negotiation for women, is that it’s short-term. That’s fine if it’s the sale of a rug in an Istanbul market -you’re unlikely to return. But in most business situations, there’s a real advantage to both parties in building a long-term relationship. Repeat sales, maintenance agreements, happy and productive staff or sub-contractors: that’s where the profits are. Smart businesses know this and negotiate with a win-win approach.
Collaborative or win-win negotiation
A collaborative style of negotiation works better for women. It’s a great way to maximise women’s negotiation skills.
• Great communication skills. First, understand your customer’s real needs. Question and listen actively. Don’t assume they even know what they want. For example, they may say they want to buy some training from you, but after discussion it becomes clear that the real need is for management coaching. It’s in both your interests to meet the real needs. Again, a short-term fix is likely to be a one-off.
• Empathy. This is about having the ability to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and see the situation from their position. And at the same time, never undersell yourself: mutual respect.
• Joint problem-solving. In win-win negotiation, the parties jointly problem-solve to expand the ‘pie.’ It’s unlike competitive negotiation, which is win-lose, ie. if you get a slice of pie, I’m left with less. The starting point for collaborative negotiation is that ‘if I do a great job for you, we both benefit.’
With a collaborative model, women can excel at negotiation on their own terms. For most women, it’s a very comfortable approach that builds on social expectations of how women should behave. It’s a model that makes sense for everyone in business. And it’s becoming the norm in a growing number of sectors.
Negotiation for women works best when we can play to our strengths. Traditional negotiation techniques still have their place, but you need to be wary of the particular pitfalls for female negotiators. Blend them with a win-win mindset and in most negotiation situations you’ll be unstoppable.
If you want to know more about negotiation techniques for women, this book is highly recommended: Why Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation, and Positive Strategies for Change