Possibilities for negotiations come up every day in a typical work environment, but often the idea of negotiating does not come to mind when your boss makes a quick request in the hallway or assigns you a task. “When it comes to negotiating, we tend to see it as a once-a-year kind of skill, and something we maybe use at performance reviews,” says Selena Rezvani, owner of the Next Gen Women consulting firm. “There are so many everyday ways to go, and you have to be able to see that you are in a negotiable situation.”
The potential for negotiating comes up in ways big and small, from a request by your boss to work on the weekend to your trying to maneuver who you work with or might adopt as a mentor to opportunities for global travel, a promotion, or better money.
Rezvani is the keynote speaker at the fourth annual Women’s Leadership Summit at the College of New Jersey’s School of Business, Wednesday, November 5, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. She will speak on “The Art of the Ask: How to Negotiate with Confidence.” The event will also include an interactive workshop sponsored by the NJ Small Business Development Center, where women will practice their communication skills, and a panel discussion titled “Rules of the Game: The Written and Unwritten.” Panelists include moderator Amy Resnick, executive editor of Pensions & Investments; Christine Agnello, owner and chief executive officer of the Acumen Group; Melanie Childress Carucci, head of collaboration services, Americas, at Thomson Reuters; and Alfa Demmellash, cofounder and chief executive officer of Rising Tide Capital. Cost: $100, with discounts for groups and TCNJ alumni. Contact Patty Karlowitsch at email@example.com for more information. For more details and to register, go to http://business.pages.tcnj.edu/.
Rezvani has a few tips up her sleeve that can help women especially, but in fact everyone, to negotiate effectively to get what they want: Choose a figure or goal that delights and thrills you. Don’t start with something that merely satisfies you. Before heading into a negotiation, frame something in your own head that you feel real enthusiasm about. “You want to start three to five moves ahead of where you want to end up, whether it’s a flexible work arrangement or money. You want to make or anchor your request above the place where you actually hope to land,” Rezvani says. Be ready because the other side inevitably will push back.
Often women will lowball a figure, asking themselves, “Is my cause worthy enough that I should lobby for it today? Am I deserving enough?” Not feeling sure enough of themselves, they may just ask for what will cover their bases and family budget, not some lofty figure, says Rezvani.
Use silence strategically. “Silence is a great tool and power leveler between two people,” Rezvani says. She suggests allowing five to seven seconds of friendly silence, both after you make your request and after hearing a response from your counterpart, which allows you to take it in and think it through. “Silence is a safe place to be in a negotiation,” she says. “The other side often feels compelled to speak and say more; and you’re not agreeing to something that you may regret.” Often when women use this technique, the other side will inch closer to their position.
Silence also keeps you from blurting out something that is not in your own interest. Rezvani says, “It stops us from buffering our request by saying something like, ‘So I’m asking for a 10 percent raise today, but I know it’s been a hard year for the company.’ You make a request and etch away at the credibility of it by making some caveat that lessens the impact.” Making a request cleanly and then engaging in quiet shows a person’s confidence and that she stands behind her request.
Don’t agree to a “drive by” request in the moment. Take care of those casual, spontaneous negotiations that may occur in the hallway — for example, your boss stopping you and saying, ‘This issue just erupted; can you work late tonight or come in on Saturday to fill in for a sick team member?’ Says Rezvani: “Many women are conditioned to be accommodating and try to make someone’s life easier, so make a rule that you won’t agree to something drive-by in the moment. Unless you’re that certain about a conviction that you want to do x project, you’re not going to feel pressured and compelled to say yes in the moment, even if you’re only buying yourself 20 minutes.” Tell the person you will check your commitments and get back to them.
“As a recovering ‘avoiding negotiator’ myself, don’t get sucked in and later feel frustrated and resentful that you said yes blindly. This puts you in more of an active than a passive role.”
Choose the right time for a negotiation or request. Often people use a performance review as the venue for timing a request for money, promotion, or more responsibility. But Rezvani characterizes this moment as a “veritable desert of time and place for negotiating because so much has been decided.” Instead negotiations should take place following a big success in a project you were responsible for, like an advertising campaign that put the company on the map, or an accolade from a delighted VIP client. “You should frame your request for a time when you have a lot of bargaining chips,” she says.
Rezvani also suggests taking note of regular cycles in the mood of one’s boss. If your boss is in a crabby mood after Monday’s senior leadership meeting, that’s not the time to schedule a meeting. Similarly, don’t schedule in the afternoon if that is when she is groggy and has less of an attention span. The best time is when your manager is alert, open to new ideas, optimistic, and positive.
Ask expansive questions during a negotiation. Often when someone makes a request and gets some resistance, she will “say okay, look dejected, and sneak away,” Rezvani says. But what you should be doing is trying to elongate the conversation. Particularly effective for doing this is asking open-ended questions: Can you say more about that? Is there a policy that dictates that you can’t look at that midyear? I hear you saying there are negative ramifications if we do this — can you tell me more about what you’re thinking?
Asking these types of questions shows that you have confidence in yourself and your request, that you are willing to problem-solve together to come up with a solution, and that you believe a solution is achievable.
“You’re not allowing yourself to be waved away with a vague no, which can be really frustrating; you’re more insisting on objective criteria,” she says.
Asking the right kinds of questions is like peeling away an onion, Rezvani says, and will often get you to the real issue. For example, your boss may say that now is not the time to negotiate for a raise when the real issue is that he is fine with it but does not want to be the one to advocate with human resources. At this point, you might ask whether he would mind if you went directly to human resources, and he might very well say yes.
Hook into the other side’s goals, passions, or struggles. Although any request for responsibility should be based on a reliable track record and a demonstration of consistency and dependability, the best way to achieve this is to be aware of what will improve quality of life for your boss. One woman who wanted to assume more responsibility and wanted more exposure to higher ups realized that her boss always moaned and groaned about the forecasts she had to assemble every week and send to the leadership team. So she told her boss, “I know you are struggling with this, and I would be happy and am ready to assume that responsibility.”
What can sometimes clinch a request for increased responsibility is to suggest doing it on a trial basis, setting up checkpoints on the way to gauge progress. “This can make the risk of saying yes be less scary,” Rezvani says. “You have to always be thinking to yourself: how can I make it easy for them to say yes?”
Rezvani grew up in Philadelphia, her father an engineer and her mother a nurse. She then studied social work at New York University, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. “I always had the wish of applying those skills to the workplace but didn’t yet know that that career path really existed,” she recalls.
She used her social work skills in several venues — counseling HIV-positive individuals; and working with severe domestic violence cases as well as with victims of violent crimes. But she found burnout was a problem. “I couldn’t not take it around everywhere with me,” she says.
“I love these skills; I love empowering people: I feel that is why I am on this earth,” she says, but she needed to find another place to use these skills.
So she cast a wider net. Looking around at jobs, and frustrated that she did not find many very enticing, she realized she needed to think more expansively. She decided to look at the help wanted ads on Craig’s List. “I saw an ad from a consulting firm that did exactly what I wanted to do,” she says. Called the Great Place to Work Institutes, it did employee engagement surveys and helped leaders be more effective. She worked there for four years. “It was a great place to cut my teeth in leadership development and learn how to consult in a corporate culture,” she says.
Next she moved to Washington, where she had another great learning opportunity at Management Concepts. She also decided to earn an MBA at night at Johns Hopkins University, a program that she chose because it had two self-study components rather than being a cookie-cutter MBA program. “I told them the first day that I wanted to focus on women leaders,” she says, noting that she wanted to interview them, work with them, learn about how they made it to the top, and whether they had anything in common or were totally different from each other. One female professor encouraged her, as her self-study, to assemble her dream team of women leaders and find out if they were willing to be interviewed. The team included women like the chief executive officer of the Washington Post and the president of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“That really changed my life: those 30 hours of interviews,” she says. “It was the best education of my life — wonderful straight talk from these women about their mistakes and successes.”
She decided to quit her consulting job and focus on her book, “The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School,” and she created her own business, Next Gen Women, based in the greater Philadelphia area, where she does both women’s leadership training in corporations and cultural consulting to corporations to make workplaces more family and female friendly, in terms of employee retention.
The fact that women are four times less likely to initiate a negotiation than men and women are 2.5 times more likely than men to report apprehension about negotiating was for her a call to action to write her second book, “Pushback: How Smart Women Ask — and Stand Up— for What They Want.”
“If you can do this for yourself and be a good self-advocate, everything else is doable and easy after that,” she says. “The goal is for women who walk out of training to feel they can go conquer the world and have more voice.”