Despite the allure of magic hard-ball tactics that will make you “win” the negotiation table, most negotiation research shows that this simplistic picture is pure fiction especially given that truly great negotiators know their goal is not to “win” but to create mutually satisfying outcomes. Similar fiction is the notion that women are poor negotiators and/or should avoid negotiating for fear of being perceived as too aggressive. Rather, a balanced approach to negotiating can serve your interests and those of others around you.
As an expert on gender and negotiation, I offer 5 tips that will help you develop a balanced approach. Naturally, this list is not exhaustive, and the particular context of the negotiation as well as your own style also matter. These tips offer the building blocks from which to develop and refine your own negotiation strategies to achieve mutually satisfying deals.
Do your homework. One of the most important ways to prepare yourself for any negotiation is by doing your homework. Your aim should be to quantify your interests, plan your arguments and almost most importantly to anticipate and plan for your counterpart’s position. Most negotiations involve more than a single number but it is all too easy to fall back on the most quantifiable metric to determine the value of a deal. Instead, find ways to quantify the intangible, especially when the personal value is high. Would a salary of $5K more per year be worth it to you if it meant traveling two weeks out of every month? Knowing these type tradeoffs and what you are willing to concede on for the sake of maximizing your personal value is vital to leaving a negotiation and feeling satisfied with your outcome. However, your homework does not stop there, negotiations are not just about numbers and tradeoffs but also the art of persuasion. Remember a negotiation is not a debate, you are not trying to convince the other party that you are right or to take your deal but rather it is an interaction, a back and forth where you are trying to learn about the other party’s interests in order to satisfy their needs while simultaneously maximizing your own. In this way, your goal should be to learn their underlying interests and how you can satisfy them and doing your homework in advance to try and understand their likely positions on issues will aid you in this goal.
Don’t sell yourself short. On average people tend to estimate that they are better than average. Use this statistical overconfidence to your advantage rather than using this negotiation opportunity as the one time you accurately perceive your own worth. Find your sources of power and don’t be afraid to leverage in justification of an aggressive Reservation Point (the least you would be willing to accept in a deal before walking away from the table), Target Point (the ideal outcome that you strive to secure) and Opening Point (more aggressive offer than your target that you plan to negotiate down from). I should caution here that women have to be careful to find the balance between self-confidence and self-promotion. Research shows that women who are overtly self-promoting may succeed on some fronts but suffer a reputational hit after the fact.
Wield an iron fist in a velvet glove. Often times it is not about what you ask for, but how you ask for it. So here is an opportunity, especially for women, in how to balance an aggressive monetary position in a negotiation with a tame demeanor. Some of my own research shows that when women ask for a high salary, it is only those who take on a matching assertive demeanor that could suffer negative social consequences. In this experiment, female negotiators made the exact same aggressive salary request but half did so in a correspondingly assertive way, “I deserve this amount” vs. half in a more cooperative tone, “I think this would be a mutually satisfying number”. Women who tempered their high ask with a conciliatory tone were able to achieve high outcomes and simultaneously avoid negative reputational aftershocks.
Leverage your surroundings. Studies show that status begets resources so signaling your own success and status markers will legitimize your request and likely increase your outcomes. Especially for women and people of color, whom sociological research shows occupy lower social status in the U.S. relative to white men, signaling your status through qualifications, titles, chains of authority, etc. will help to have your request more seriously considered. Here also realize that by definition status is conferred by others so be sure to use those constituents to boost your position. Especially for women, there is great value in framing the negotiation in terms of the others who depend on you rather than self-interested motivations.
Do unto others. Just as women (and men) benefit from advocating for others, so too do others benefit from you advocating for them. Not only does it garner better negotiation outcomes but also signals your abilities as a participatory leader who is driven to help others succeed. And as we all know, what goes around comes around so if you spend time advocating for others, there is a good chance that those others will turn around and advocate for you when the time comes.
Emily Amanatullah earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Columbia University in 2007 and a B.S. in psychology and computer science from Duke University in 2002. She teaches the McCombs course The Art and Science of Negotiation and Women in Management, and her research explores the intersection of these topics. Her work focuses on the unique constraints and opportunities that women face at the bargaining table speciﬁcally, and in business more generally. She is currently a Research Fellow at the Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Institute.