Some expert somewhere once estimated that 82 percent of life involves some form of negotiation. Whether it’s negotiating with the boss for a pay increase, with the credit card company for a lower interest rate, or with the spouse for a long-delayed romantic getaway, some people just seem snakebit. Rather than the raise, these hapless souls get six months of unemployment checks, 27 percent interest on their credit cards, and a vacation in Scranton with the in-laws.
But help is on the way. “Negotiation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do,” says Lee Miller, a Morristown-based lawyer and entrepreneur who is something of a negotiation guru. “I think that we have finally gotten to the place in society where people accept the fact that they need to do things a bit differently. Women can be both tough and successful negotiators, but in order to achieve success, they need to go about it in a way that is more likely to work for them.”
Miller heads up a seminar for the Industrial Commercial Real Estate Women (ICREW). “A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating” takes place on Thursday, June 8, at 8:30 a.m. at the Woodbridge Hilton. Cost: $65. Visit www.icrewnj.org for more information. “The workshop isn’t just for women working in real estate, but is really useful for any woman working in business,” says Miller.
For Miller, negotiation is as natural as breathing. Born in Newark, he earned his bachelor’s from Rutgers and is a graduate of Harvard Law School. In addition to practicing law, he has worked in human resources in the corporate world. He is now the owner of several businesses, including Negotiation Plus (www.negotiationplus.com) and Your Career Doctors (www.YourCareerDoctors.com), and he is the author of several books, including “A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiation” (co-authored with his daughter Jessica and published by McGraw Hill).
Miller has also written articles for a variety of publications including The Wall Street Journal and Monster.com and has appeared on CNN’s “Your Money’s Worth” as well as ABC’s “Good Morning America.” His new book, “UP: Influence, Power, and the U-perspective,” is set to come out in the fall of this year.
“I define negotiating very broadly,” says Miller. “It is about influencing. It is the art of getting what you want. The techniques I talk about are useful not only in your business life but also in your personal life. We address business deals as well as how you can get ahead in your career and how to make everyday Valentine’s Day — which is the name of a chapter in my book.” This chapter, he explains, offers help on mastering the art of negotiating with your significant others.
According to Miller, the culture as a whole assigns women various attributes, almost on an unconscious level. “We all have certain strengths that we bring to the table and these societal expectations are something that everybody has to take into account,” he says. “You can work against them, but you can’t ignore them.”
According to Miller, there was a time in the 1970s and 1980s, when the women’s liberation movement was first stepping to the forefront, when many women based their negotiation techniques too much on those of the men around them, often with disappointing results. “Basically, every individual has their own strengths when negotiating and you need to be true to those strengths,” he says. “But things that may work for a man will not work for a woman, and vice versa.”
As an example of cultural expectations, Miller points to tall men. “In our culture a tall man will be treated differently than a short man, not only in negotiating, but also in life in general,” he says. “There are studies that correlate height to success in business. That’s because as a society we equate tallness with being a natural leader.” Consequently, if a tall man acts consistently with this stereotype, it reinforces people’s unconscious expectations and will likely work to his advantage. If he undermines it, then people will stop believing it in regard to this particular person.
Women are often perceived as being at a disadvantage when negotiating with their often more aggressive male counterparts. But according to Miller, women have some advantages of their own.
“In society, women are expected to negotiate differently than men and they also have some advantages that they need to understand,” he says. “The most powerful one, and it is a huge plus for women, is that men — without knowing anything about a woman — will more likely trust that what she says is true. We tend to believe that men are more likely to tell us things that are untrue.”
Miller stresses that it is important to use the strengths that you have going for you before you say the first word in a negotiation, before you even walk through the doorway. One of the most significant strengths a negotiator can have is a prior relationship with the person he is hoping to persuade. “Women tend to be better than men at building relationships, which is a major factor in influencing someone at the negotiating table,” he says. “Building relationships while trying to influence people to see your point of view is certainly a huge advantage.”
But, of course, reinforcing society’s stereotypes to work to your benefit will only get you so far as a negotiators. Many individuals have a personal style that does not necessarily conform to society’s expectations. In that case, according to Miller, it is best not to try to pretend you are someone you are not.
“Women tend to have a more collaborative negotiating style than men,” says Miller. “At least that’s what people will assume. They also expect men to have a more competitive style. But if you have a different approach to things, you can — and should — still use it, though you will need to use it differently.”
One example of this would be a woman who simply does not have a collaborative style, but instead approaches negotiations with the competitive zeal of a linebacker blitzing a quarterback. “In that case, it is important for women to soften their style a bit by using humor and a more soothing tone to their voice,” says Miller. “In doing that they can take tough positions, soften them a bit, and be more effective than a man saying the exact same thing.”
While negotiation will probably remain a challenging activity for many people, Miller believes that it is possible for women to reduce the stress and increase the chance for success by employing some of these techniques:
Be genuine. “People can always tell when you are not genuine,” says Miller. “It won’t work for women to try to be too much like men. You don’t want to be a ‘junior man,’ but rather a ‘senior woman.’ Like men, women need to project their own image and their own power. But they need to do this in a way that is genuine for them.”
Look for more opportunities. Women have not been conditioned by society to see opportunities to negotiate. “For men, almost everything in life is a negotiation,” says Miller. “It’s almost instinctive. But women tend to see things as decisions, ‘do I or don’t I?’ Once they look at things as an opportunity to get what they want, they are more likely to get better results. If you are successful at 50 percent of your opportunities to negotiate, and you double the opportunities, you will also double the success.”
Negotiate for yourself. Many successful women, even investment bankers and CEOs, still have trouble negotiating for themselves. The difference is that these women have learned to do it even though it makes them a little uncomfortable. “You must realize that if you don’t negotiate for yourself, nobody is going to do it for you,” says Miller. “It is really a key to success.”