Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
How Women Can Win at Negotiations
In their new book, A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating:
How to Convince, Collaborate, and Create Your Way to Agreement (McGraw-Hill),
women’s negotiation style — running to tears, hurt feelings, and
an eagerness to empathize with the other side — damages their
Jessica Miller, a graduate of Virginia Tech, is an investment banker
with Deutsche Bank Securities in Baltimore. Lee Miller, a graduate
of Harvard Law School, is an adjunct professor of management at Seton
Hall University Business School, where he teaches managerial negotiating.
He speaks on Thursday, October 17, at 5:30 p.m. at the Center for
Human Resources Management Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson. Call 973-443-8577.
In their book, the Millers smoke out the weaknesses that all too often
cause women to avoid negotiation or to use tactics that only win them
ridicule — and give concrete advice on how they can view the process
differently, and thereby score more wins. Here is an excerpt.
think that good negotiators act tough, scream, know all the tricks,
and outsmart their opponents. So if they are seeking to be successful
negotiators, that is who they try to become. It usually doesn’t work.
Why not? In the first place, that type of negotiating doesn’t even
work for most men, despite the fact that many of them adopt that style.
Women are generally more successful when they negotiate if they don’t
try to "negotiate like a man." To be successful, choose a
negotiating style that makes you feel comfortable and reflects who
Although ultimatums, threats, screaming, stonewalling, taking extreme
positions, and other hardball tactics do not work for most women,
that does not mean that women cannot be tough negotiators. In fact,
you can be even tougher than a man and get away with it, if you do
it right. Acting the part of the "tough negotiator" is different
from delivering a tough message. You can deliver that message firmly
but in a way that you feel comfortable with, or you can find other
ways to have it delivered, such as having someone else deliver it
for you. What you cannot do is be something you’re not. Worse, negotiating
like a man can conjure up the negative stereotype that for lack of
a better word we will refer to as the "bitch" stereotype.
The reality is, women are held to a different standard than men. It
is important to ask for what you want, but how you ask matters. For
example, men react negatively when a woman presents them with an ultimatum.
Telling them quietly and firmly, and as often as necessary, that you
really need something accomplishes the same objective without causing
a negative reaction.
The biggest mistake women make is not to negotiate. Many women look
at situations in terms of decisions they have to make, not opportunities
to negotiate. They either accept the offer or turn it down. There
are many reasons why this happens, but often women simply fail to
realize that they can question what is being offered and ask for something
else. Successful women understand that almost everything is negotiable
although you do not want to negotiate everything. They know how to
pick their battles. But when they choose to accept something without
negotiating, it is a conscious decision. Remember, if you do not ask
for what you want, you are unlikely to get it.
Because women tend to view things in the context of relationships,
they take things personally. Asking for things for themselves becomes
more difficult because if they are turned down, they see it as a personal
rejection. Even women who are excellent negotiators may find it difficult
to negotiate well on their own behalf.
Sometimes just recognizing that you have a tendency to put others’
needs ahead of your own is enough to change your behavior. Put yourself
outside yourself: See yourself as negotiating for someone else. Ask
yourself what you would do if you were advocating for someone else.
Before you begin, give yourself a little pep talk. Sit down and make
a list of the reasons why you deserve what you are asking for.
Many young girls are taught that if people care about you, they will
give you what you want without your asking. That may be true for children,
but as an adult, if you don’t ask for it, you generally don’t get
it. Most people, even those who care about you, cannot read your mind.
Let them know what you want. Our guess is that what you want is not
only reasonable but also probably much less than you could actually
get. Never be embarrassed to ask for what you want. Be as forceful
an advocate for yourself as your would be if you were negotiating
for someone else.
of your ultimate goal.
Most women are detail oriented. This can be a major strength, and
often one reason why successful women have been able to get to where
Being better prepared than the people you are dealing with can give
you a huge advantage. Preparation often enables women to get the respect
they need to negotiate on a level playing field with men. Men are
much less forgiving of women who make mistakes with the facts than
they are with men under similar circumstances. Moreover, the better
prepared you are, the more convincing you will be.
On the other hand, women sometimes get so caught up in the details
that they lose sight of what they are trying to achieve. When you
are trying to persuade someone to your point of view, it is important
to focus on the details that are important to them. Edit your points.
Just because you know something doesn’t mean everyone needs to know
it. If you share too much information, you lose your audience.
Women tend to be better listeners than men and to more readily grasp
the other side’s position. As mentioned, they treat negotiations as
a prelude to a continuing relationship. For that to occur, the other
party has to walk away from the negotiations feeling good about what
they have agreed to. Understanding how the other person perceives
the situation is an important first step. Men tend to be more task
oriented. They care about the other person’s feelings only to the
extent that those feelings are relevant to the successful conclusion
of the negotiation at hand. Men negotiate, reach agreement, and move
on to their next task.
Women seldom draw such strict boundaries between negotiations and
relationships beyond the negotiations. For women, developing an enduring
relationship can be as important as the outcome of the negotiations
However, women sometimes fall into the trap of being too empathetic.
They put themselves in the other person’s shoes. They have been raised
to do that. That is how they get hurt. They know how they would feel
and can feel the hurt they cause. They instinctively want to fix it,
but once others realize that, they can use it to get what they want.
Men are not above using empathetic feelings to gain an advantage.
Understanding the other side’s position is not the same thing as allowing
yourself to be convinced that their position should prevail, especially
if that would work to your detriment. Empathy is about understanding
their needs, not necessarily about giving them what they want. Use
your empathy to understand the other person’s needs, but never lose
sight of your own.
no for an answer.
"No" is the most powerful word in negotiating, but many women
have difficulty saying it. They want to keep everyone happy. They
want to avoid conflict. They want to be liked. They want to please.
To be a good negotiator, you must be able to say no. You can say it
without damaging your relationship with the other party. It all depends
on how you say it. When you say no it must be firm, and it must be
credible. Choosing the right words will make both easier.
There are a lot of ways to say no. For example, you might say, "Tom,
I really want to work with you on this, but I can’t agree to what
you are suggesting. How about…" or "Tom, I don’t think that
will work because …. Have you considered…?" Of course, it
helps if you can provide sound reasons why you are saying no. Sometimes,
though, you won’t be able to articulate a good reason. You simply
do not want to agree to whatever is being asked of you, be it going
out on a date, volunteering to run the PTA dance, or discounting the
price of your services. In those instances, just say no — nicely,
politely, and firmly.
In every negotiation, there are critical moments when things can go
one of two ways: well or not so well. You may be having a serious
disagreement, or the person with whom you are talking may be taking
an unreasonable position. Tension fills the room. It looks as if everything
is about to fall apart. Then someone says something funny, and the
The purpose of using humor when you negotiate is not just to get a
laugh but also to ease tension. Having a sense of humor makes people
want to be around you.
When you negotiate, you must take into consideration the other party’s
biases. Your job is not to change the people with whom you are dealing.
Your job is to understand them so you can figure out how best to achieve
your objectives. One aspect of preparing your negotiating strategy
is to take into consideration the biases of your intended audience
so that you can determine whether you are the best person to handle
the negotiation. This requires knowing yourself as well as knowing
the people you are dealing with.
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