Talk it Up: How to Reframe Your Negotiation Approach to Make it a Conversation Worth Having

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Do you stress over asking for a salary rise or for a promotion or for a change in your working arrangements? Feel uncomfortable arguing your worth and wrong-footed in a negotiation process that seems to be working against you? Well, you’re in good company. 

Same game, different rules 

Women are often anxious about negotiating on their own behalf – and they’re right to be. As Dr Linda Babcock highlighted, men are four times more likely to negotiate and earn higher salaries, and when women do initiate requests, they’re 25% less likely than men to be successful. Some might conclude that women must not want or need to ask, or not be good at it. 

Yet women outperform men in ‘representational’ negotiations (when they are negotiating on someone else’s behalf) by 14-23%. So, if it is not about skill what is it about? Women pushing on their own behalf can be judged as unfeminine, unattractive and even unwelcome. It seems there’s a social and economic cost to negotiating – and women are often paying the price. It can feel for women that they are negotiating on two levels at the same time: negotiating for the stated purpose and negotiating sub-conscious gender expectations and social approval demands. 

We need to understand the forces that shape our own and others’ attitudes around women ‘asking, so we can reframe and re-tool to be a better negotiator for our teams, our organisations and, importantly, ourselves. Click To Tweet

Make conversation, not war

Change your perspective on what negotiation is. Despite combative negotiation vocabulary – like ‘winning the deal’ or ‘playing hard ball’ – this shouldn’t be a battle. It is not a fight you will win without serious relationship collateral damage. Instead, approach a negotiation as a conversation where you and another party have differing needs or viewpoints, and you want to come to a joint agreement. Doing it well depends on those strong relationship and communication skills you already possess. 

Part of your power is to set the tone for the conversation and for your ‘ask’. Make it grown-up and fair. This is about facilitating a deal and building a productive relationship, not about getting out a loud-hailer. Click To Tweet

Think it through

Preparation is key. With any potential negotiation situation, think:

  • Is this a situation I can influence?
    If yes, then do ask. If honestly no, then give this a swerve and save your energy or assess your influencing strategy. 
  • Why am I asking? What do I want to achieve?
    Be absolutely clear what it is you want and why. Do your industry research and raise your expectations, because expectations influence outcomes. 
  • How am I asking?
    Don’t make it all about you. Focus on what’s needed to help solve the wider issue. But ensure it is not ALL about the other party. 
  • Can I package a proposal?
    Offer a solution, thinking about how it benefits all parties involved, as Stanford’s Professor Margaret A. Neale explains.

What’s in it for both of us?

People want to do deals. And they want to do them with people they trust, building long and mutually productive business relationships. Click To Tweet

It’s the classic win-win scenario –that’s what a good negotiation is and how a reputation for being firm and fair is established.

Our autopilot as women is often ‘how can I help?’. This isn’t a bad thing and in negotiation can be a positive asset, promoting enquiring rather than demanding. You’re far more likely to get what you want if the other party can see clearly what they get out of it too. 

For example, in a negotiation around flexible working, make it clear it’s not just of individual benefit to you but also to others in your team and to the organisation in enabling the team to stretch cover or respond more easily to deadline demands. It’s about demonstrating the value for both parties.

How to negotiate

  • Reframe your ask as a complete package, not a collection of single issues.
  • Offer a solution.   
  • Know the issues you’re prepared to give on, within the whole, and what you’re not. Sometimes in our nervousness we concede the small things early avoiding the ‘big ask’ and then we have nothing left to ‘give’ when we need to negotiate further. So keep some ‘gives’ in the back pocket, giving nothing big away too early.    
  • Don’t box the other party in – always give them somewhere to go.   
  • Buy time if needed – if you want to go away and think about the package discussed, just ask for that and don’t be rushed into agreement. 

Practise feeling uncomfortable

Before any negotiation, find a critical friend to help you role-play it and:

  • Discuss how you and the message land. 
  • Get comfortable with feeling out of your comfort zone.  It’s okay to feel uncomfortable: it means you’re stretching your abilities. It won’t feel natural and that’s fine. Sometimes our own socialisation as females means what comes naturally to us doesn’t serve us well as leaders. 

Don’t play the negotiation combative games you think you have to. Instead put the emphasis on preparation, interest in the other party’s needs, and be willing to feel uncomfortable.  And remember, what’s the worst that can happen? You maybe won’t get the result you want this time, but you learn negotiation skills for the next. Keep it in perspective – and keep asking!

As always thanks for reading this and sharing it. Feel free to read more on my blog page.

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