Should women negotiate differently?

Emotions, if used well, can play a great role in decision making and in any negotiation. However, they can also backfire. How can we influence the emotions during a negotiation to help us reach an agreement that BOTH parties are happy with? Should they be tailored differently to women? It’s still a controversial topic even though it hasn’t changed in ages: stereotypes deeply rooted in our consciousness are triggers to certain behaviors. Why is there rather a negative perception of women advocating for themselves?

I’ve researched and selected some of the best tactics to make sure they help us do the job – to manage the way they affect our negotiating partner’s thinking, perception, and ultimately also the decision making. It’s not at all about tricking someone into doing something they don’t want to do.

Negotiation shouldn’t be seen as a confrontation but rather as a joint problem to solve.

If you are not happy with your pay, at one point you may stop performing at your best. You can try to structure the negotiation to satisfy both sides by showing valid arguments supported by positive emotions.

First things first: I knew the science and I knew the tactics, but it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that

I learned that I need to get comfortable with the discomfort I feel, and speak up.

Before that I’d accept what was offered, feeling lucky that I got that job, a promotion with more responsibilities but without a pay rise or a compliment instead of what matters in our professional careers: being financially remunerated for the effort and commitment we put in.

Negotiating is one of the most stressful and challenging things we have to do to make our dreams and aspirations come true. It’s true for all of us regardless of gender, but women face much more pushback while being open about their expectations. This happens on two fronts:

  • External perception and (sometimes unconscious) gender bias – women are expected to focus on team-spirit, to be nurturing and caring, and as such when they advocate for themselves, they may be perceived in a negative way.
  • Inner emotions – our own fear of not being liked, stress of the upcoming challenge, our low self-esteem and confidence, all make us stay quiet instead of confronting those feeling.

In my previous post we talked about the art of a good negotiation: from choosing face time over email, making sure you are prepared with numbers and arguments, as well as the best ways to raise your confidence. This time we will focus on what we can do to benefit from our feminine side and the style that works for each of us individually instead of trying to be someone we are not.

If you already have a strong style and don’t have problems asking for more, the below may not be needed at all. What matters the most is being authentic and not pretending to be someone you are not.

Your negotiating toolkit – the female power

# 1: Be prepared – the absolute must in a good negotiation. Research the job market and find out how much the job you are applying for, or the one you currently have, should pay. The more information you have the better. Have a specific number in mind and be ready to back it up with examples.

Women are considered emotional so saying that you’ve done a great job and deserve a raise rarely works. What matters is the reality: numbers and facts.

The other extreme of not negotiating is going for an unrealistic number. Let’s say the job you are applying for pays between GBP 80.000 and GBP 100.000. If you ask for GBP 180.000 it doesn’t show you are confident – but more that you didn’t research the market. That’s one of the things experienced recruiters highlighted – the importance of knowing your worth and the market instead of blindly suggesting the highest number.

Also, it’s natural to get a first negative answer, or a number below your expectations. Be prepared, don’t get discouraged and have counter arguments – showing how your contribution helps the company grow. Why? Linking your raise with the company’s success will strengthen your negotiating power as you are using positive emotions.

# 2: Be authentic and use your feminine side – negotiation is often seen as a poker face game. This rarely applies to women, unless you are already very direct by nature. Why? Women tend to get to much better results by focusing on positive emotions and their feminine side instead of playing cool and over-confident during the negotiation. This was surprising to me to, but the reality is that regardless of negotiating with men or women, we are still guided by stereotypes and gender bias. Women are expected to focus on relationships and company’s well being instead of advocating directly for themselves.

Solution? Combine the two: negotiate for yourself while using the team-spirit rationale.

Women are actually brilliant negotiators…when advocating for others. By changing the words we channel the ability of negotiating for others to advance our own career.

Try two simple tricks:

  1. Prepare arguments showing how your ideas will benefit your team, the company and your negotiating partner himself. By looking for a win-win from a perspective of your boss, you are using a very strong part of your feminine side and making a natural introduction to ask for a raise. I’d suggest linking your goals to the revenue stream for the company or your team, and showing short- and long-term development plans.
  2. Use WE instead of I – phrases such as can we work together to reach a solution? are helpful. You are symbolically showing that you have larger goals in mind and emphasize common interests. It doesn’t seem to make a difference in theory, but you can see for yourself that it does.

# 3: Be brave and delete apologetic language – there is no need to ask if you can negotiate (and apologize for doing so) or if the offer you were given is negotiable. Assume it is!  Aim higher and ask for a number above your ideal salary (10-20% higher). Chances are you will get much closer to what you want if you start from an inflated number. Employers have many savvy ways of trying to prevent you from asking for more. They may compliment how much they appreciate you or how good of a candidate you are (and as such they already gave you the highest salary they were ready to pay). In reality it’s only a starting point and you can always negotiate – if not the salary, then other things in the package.

# 4: Embrace silence – When asking for more you don’t need to justify it. Once you laid out your arguments rest your case. Wait and let the other side respond. This shows – on an emotional level – your confidence and the fact that you have it well figured out. There will be moments of awkward silence that will work in your favour.

Think about it: when you state what you think with confidence and then pause, it shows you truly believe in your cause and in yourself. If you don’t, why should others?

# 5: Be creative and flexible – so you’ve tried everything and it seems that the budget (or your manager’s mind) is not as flexible as yours?

What else can you negotiate? Can it be a quarterly performance bonus, additional vacation time, flexible working arrangements, a promotion?

Would you like get additional qualifications that your company can sponsor to make sure you will get a raise next time? By asking Would it be possible to structure my package to include (whatever is on your list) you show you are willing to cooperate.

You can ask directly about your manager’s idea of what is needed to increase your pay, and work towards it for your next review.

# 6: Perception is reality: craft your story – imagine you are in the final stage of your job application and will meet the ultimate decision maker for the first time. By now you know what the company is looking for and you can use it to immediately raise your value. Work on a short, 60-second introduction that you can use to casually present yourself.

By crafting your personal story – and by emphasizing 2-3 most important things you want to be associated with – you immediately set the scene for the negotiation.

The power of first impression is undeniable and that’s why you are better off trying to do it in the beginning rather than waiting for follow up questions.

What are they? Different depending on your situation. If you are coming back from a maternity leave or have a family, you can answer unanswered questions in your partner’s head: will she be committed and focused?

For example, say that the experience of being a mum expanded your skill set and brought your time and team management skills to a whole new level. You learned how precious time is and make sure you are efficient and decisive which was previously a challenge. Lastly, you love your kids but are excited about going back to work as you miss the challenges and the thrills of being professionally active while someone else takes care of them.

It’s only an example, but I chose this one as many young mums decide to stay at home or – if they go back – they sell themselves short because they feel lucky they are being offered a job – any job. It should be the opposite – some of the best and most efficient employees are working mums. There is one amazing woman on my relationship management team in London – and she is one of the most efficient people I’ve met.

As for my breakthrough I won’t forget getting my first managerial position a couple of years ago. I knew this time I had to negotiate. Since it involved a career change and moving to a different field I knew little about the job itself. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I spent hours getting ready. I talked to several friends asking about their idea of a good salary for the equivalent position. I checked different job reports. It ranged widely but I knew what the bottom and top line for my experience, my industry and my skills should be. I also met with a mentor before and knew I can’t leave the meeting without at least trying to negotiate – as I’d often do in the past.

It was my last meeting with my boss-to-be. I knew I got the job and we sat down to talk about the last piece – the remuneration package. He gave me the number he was prepared to pay. It was higher than what I expected. I didn’t blink (but was literally jumping inside). Regardless of that I knew I needed to speak now. I said something along the lines of  being thrilled he wants me to join the team, however I had a slightly higher number in mind. I was so nervous I had to put my hands under the table for him not to see they were shaking, but didn’t add anything else, waiting for what seemed like minutes (seconds really) before he replied. I’d be really disappointed if you didn’t negotiate!

We settled at a starting salary 9% higher than the one he initially suggested, and I also negotiated a provision in my contract to raise my salary in 6 months if he is happy with my performance by another 10%. A couple of minutes of discomfort gave me a substantially higher pay that was later used as a reference in my next jobs. This showed me that by being more proactive I can gain a lot more. As I now talk to my friends and my clients, I see how difficult it is virtually for everyone to stand up for ourselves. And even though it’s still difficult for me, it gets easier with time.


Mika Brzezinski: Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth

Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.