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),

Lee Miller and his daughter Jessica Miller state that

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.

Be yourself: But be the best self you can be. Women often

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

you are.

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.

It doesn’t hurt to ask: Almost everything is negotiable.

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.

Negotiate for yourself as if you were negotiating for someone


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.

Master the details, but be flexible and never lose sight

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

they are.

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.

Be empathetic, but not too empathetic.

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.

Be willing to say no, but don’t be too willing to accept

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.

Lighten up: A little humor goes a long way.

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

moment passes.

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.

Accept human nature, don’t fight it.

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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