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Why Do Women Negotiate For Less Than They Deserve At Work?

Recent research has found that women aren’t negotiating well. Here’s how to up your game.

Why Do Women Negotiate For Less Than They Deserve At Work?
[Photo: Flickr user doctorwonder]

Recently, I interviewed a video production company owner who told me the starting salary for one position at her company is $65,000. As a shrewd business person, her opening offer to prospective hires is $60,000. Invariably, she says, the men she’s interviewing ask for $70,000 while the women say “okay” to the initial offer. She said too few women negotiate well overall.

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Of course, the plural of anecdote isn’t data. But when we look at the numbers, the news isn’t much better.

In a study published in the July 2014 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania found that women were more often perceived to be easily misled than men. To no one’s surprise, women were misled more often than men in negotiations. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that women tend to be more timid when negotiating on behalf of themselves, fearing backlash, but are effective when it comes to negotiating on someone else’s behalf.

So why do many women tend to settle?

Atlanta-based sports agent Molly Fletcher, author of A Winner’s Guide to Negotiating: How Conversations Get Deals Done, says women hold themselves back in a number of areas. They worry about the impact of negotiations on the relationship and are more likely to avoid negotiating altogether if they can, so they’re less practiced at it than many of their male counterparts. For Fletcher, who was called “the female Jerry Maguire” by CNN, it’s exasperating.

“You don’t want to be another statistic in the data–another woman accepting a job for less because she’s a woman. I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me. We need to get paid for what we do,” Fletcher says.

From hashing out your next raise to getting the best price on a car, it’s important to be able to work out deals to your best advantage. Here’s how to up your game.

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Explore your hesitation.

If you’re going to become a better negotiator, you need to overcome your reluctance to do it. Often, women have been socialized from a young age to make peace and not to ask for what they want, says Carol Frohlinger, founder of Negotiating Women, Inc., a New York City training firm that helps women be more effective negotiators, and coauthor of Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success. When you’re feeling tense about entering into a negotiation, try to put your finger on what’s making you uncomfortable, she says.

“Maybe they’ve advocated for their own interests in the past and come up against a brick wall or had bad experiences,” she says. But that doesn’t mean the next time will have the same outcome, she adds.

Prepare.

Before you sit down to negotiate, think through what you want and what you believe the other party wants. Make a list of the pertinent information, such as the accomplishments that qualify you for a promotion or the research you’ve done on a deal’s financials. Also think about the various scenarios that might play out.

If you anticipate reactions, you’ll be better able to handle them, Frohlinger says. Focus on any words you might hear that might cause discomfort so they don’t throw you, such as if you’re told you lack experience or that what you want isn’t reasonable. And practice out loud.

“There’s a difference between knowing what you’re going to say in a given situation and actually getting the words out of your mouth in a way that’s comfortable for you, and culturally compatible,” she says.

Stay curious, not defensive.

When we get pushback in negotiating, it’s common to feel defensive, Fletcher says. That’s a road block to negotiating.

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Instead, work on asking questions and remaining curious about what the other party is trying to accomplish. The more you understand the other party’s perspective, the better able you’ll be to find suitable middle ground in your negotiations.

Know when to walk away, even temporarily.

Sometimes, the back-and-forth in negotiating can leave you unsure what to do. If you need to take a break, do so. If you feel pressured to agree to something about which you’re unsure or if you need to do some additional thinking or calculation to ensure a deal is right for you, say so, Fletcher says. In most cases, there’s nothing wrong with walking away and coming back to the table after you’ve had time to reconsider your options.

Overall, the key to negotiating most effectively is being able to say “no” to conditions that aren’t right for you. And, whatever you do, don’t feel pressured to fill pauses in the conversation. They’re often used to add an element of tension and pressure, Fletcher says.

Practice.

The more you negotiate, the better you’ll get, Frohlinger says. It may not always come easily or be enjoyable, but putting your negotiating skills to work for yourself can help you earn more, save money, and get what you need–or, at least, closer to it–in any given situation, she says.

About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and web sites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books.

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