I’ve spent a great deal of my career negotiating, but I didn’t always feel as though I was good at it. In fact, as with everything, I found it was a skill that improved as I learned and grew more confident. I began my career in the telecommunications industry and without any experience, learned to negotiate while selling to businesses. As I moved on and became an entrepreneur and consultant, negotiation became part of my day-to-day life. Now I can say I’ve negotiated a multi-million dollar contract among multiple parties in mere weeks, and I regularly coach others in these skills. However, I can remember when negotiation seemed like a hazy and intimidating task. Most of these ten tips are ones that I employ regularly and can help anyone become a better and more confident negotiator, though I have tailored some specifically for female readers. Here are 10 Negotiating Tips For Women:
1. Remember that great negotiating is not a skill that conforms to any particular gender. I only feel the need to begin with this because there seems to be a perception that men are better negotiators than women; however, there is nothing to prove that this is the case, nor any legitimate reason for it to be true. Instead, this stigma has become prevalent enough that some women, especially those who are somewhat new to negotiating, seem to believe they’re at a disadvantage. This way of thinking is the real disadvantage; dismissing it is the first step to successful negotiation.
2. Know your true value. People commonly undervalue their own work or services as well as their position. However, once you’ve done some research and determined that the thing you want to ask for is fair, there’s nothing stopping you. I’ve had a great deal of experience hiring staff and eventually, I began to ask people what salary they believed they were worth for their full-time employment. Perhaps they were afraid to answer honestly; regardless, I found they generally suggested a figure anywhere from 5-10K less than I would have offered. When you know your true value, you can negotiate from a place of confidence.
3. Discuss your position with others first to get their points of view. If you’ve done your research and found that it backs up your point of view, but are still unsure, it may help to get a second opinion (or several). If there aren’t likeminded people at your workplace, join a coaching group, peer association, or meet-up group. This way, you can use others as a soundboard for your ideas, and perhaps even role play prior to the negotiation. I find that testing the water with others first to make sure my ideas are plausible and my evidence is solid makes me far more confident going in to the actual negotiation.
4. Have a clear goal in mind. Before you actually can get what you want, you must know what you want. This goal should be clear and concrete, without any gray areas; it’s your ideal outcome. Now think about what you can live with if that best case scenario proves unattainable. This is your minimum acceptable target; whether it’s the lowest dollar amount you’ll take or the only aspects of a contract you’re willing to compromise on, preparing for this will keep you sure and steady in the negotiation. Whether you’re negotiating your contract and pay, or a price for a customer, your best interest must always be at the forefront of your mind and you must always know the lowest target for which you’ll settle.
5. Remember: you simply have to ask. Getting what you want might seem like a huge mountain to climb; however, even if the negotiation proves difficult, the best way to begin is simply asking for it. It generally doesn’t do any harm to ask, and you should never feel bad about expressing what you truly want. Often, people will agree with you; if they don’t, take it as an opportunity to argue your case. Draw from the preparation and research you’ve done to create a strategic argument that wins them over. Don’t be afraid of risking the relationship; in fact, not speaking up for yourself could do that, anyway. I can think of several occasions where I have discovered that female staff have been disgruntled under my employ due to their pay, though they had previously agreed to that pay. This is likely due to them not knowing their true value, though during our HR department’s three, six, and twelve month review of pay few women pushed for more than a basic increase. Had more women asked, they would have likely gotten what they wanted rather than becoming unhappy and eventually leaving the company. Remember while everyone wishes employers would see everything they do and hand out substantial bonuses, the fact is they’re not and businesses are in business to make money, so those that don’t ask generally don’t receive.
6. Don’t be afraid to say no and walk away. This goes hand in hand with knowing your minimum acceptable target; the reason you have a minimum is so that in the heat of the negotiation, you can still be true to yourself. Never go below your minimum; instead, explain why you can’t agree to an offer below it. This leaves the other party the option to agree and give a counter offer.
7. Focus on your ideal end result, not who is in control. Don’t spend energy in your negotiation focusing on status or trying to figure out who is “winning.” This causes you to lose sight of what you’re really trying to get. Instead, spend your energy figuring out how to use what they do or say to your advantage. I learned this when selling telecommunications; the company I started with went from having horrible coverage to the second best in Australia in the span of a few years. I found people wanted to complain, so I let them vent- it gave me all the information I needed to effectively sell my product. I generally was apologetic but logical, using their desire (often to save money) to highlight how that objective could be achieved effectively.
8. Find the win-win. For one party to win a negotiation, the other party doesn’t have to lose. Understanding what the other party truly wants or is trying to achieve gives you power. You will be surprised how frequently, by focusing on the other party, you can provide them exactly what they want while getting everything you want.
9. Negotiation doesn’t just happen in the board room. Statistically, men network more than women. While they aren’t necessarily more informed or better at negotiating, they are more apt to meet a client in a social context and therefore build a better rapport. Don’t be afraid to invite a potential client or opposing negotiator out to talk; I do so all the time before a meeting for a large deal- many accept and in doing so, given me a big advantage. Getting to know me allows the other party to decide they want to work with me, and the meeting becomes about fine-tuning the details. Another good example of the social aspect of negotiating is my first job: I was promoted four times within the span of a year. This wasn’t because I was the best salesperson; instead, it was because I had the best relationships. I found that all the top managers at the company smoked. I didn’t, but would accompany them on smoke breaks. People thought it was strange, but I explained that I simply wanted some air. It gave me an incredible advantage: during those times, I gained numerous opportunities to build relationships and self-advocate.
10. Realize that you are only as good as your other options. So many people go into a negotiation without a fall-back plan. While it’s great to have faith in the opposing party, knowing you can walk away with security gives you great strength you can use to negotiate harder. It doesn’t make you disloyal to explore your options; I once coached a woman at IBM to look for other options just to strengthen her position before she had her appraisal. Knowing she had another job in her pocket with a 10% increase in salary made her comfortable to successfully push for a 15% raise and promotion with her current employer.
Matthew Pollard is a serial entrepreneur, published author, international speaker, coach and consultant. Matthew offers online sales, niche marketing and business seminars through DanandMatt.com and MatthewPollard.guru. He is also a founding member of TheSeminarReview.com, the world’s first independent and unbiased seminar review website.