Contributed by Selena Rezvani, author of “The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School”
If you think about it, we’re engaging in negotiations at work all the time. Whether we’re asking for the big promotion, the funding to attend a training or conference, for a vendor to come down on their prices, or to take a vacation during “busy” season, we’re in more bargaining situations than we realize.
With the pay disparity still a reality for most women, we need as many negotiation tools as possible at our disposal. What better time to revisit negotiation than now–as we approach April 20–the fifteenth annual Equal Pay Day? Consider the following strategies the next time you enter a negotiation at work, and remember, real-life practice is the very best preparation for negotiating.
- Overprepare: Before entering any kind of negotiation, take the time to organize yourself from an informational standpoint. Write out why you are negotiating for whatever it is and the reasons for it. When you’re clear on your rationale, assemble any research that supports your argument. Remember to be creative as you do your research: look at traditional data from salary calculators and industry benchmarking reports, but be sure to speak to those in your networking circles who can also provide insight on compensation. If you want to ask for an assistant, for example, examine the standard criteria for hiring an assistant within your company. How many people does an assistant typically support? What kind of revenue does a department have to produce in order to justify having an assistant? Most of all, be ready to convey how an assistant could add new value for your organization.
- Keep the Ship Steady: Prepare not only your facts–but also your demeanor. Walking into a negotiation without preparing can be disastrous, as can spontaneous or emotion-driven negotiations. Show that you’re optimistic that a solution can be reached that can satisfy all parties. You can also boost yourself up emotionally by dwelling on your strengths and abilities; concentrate on several of your past successes to increase your confidence and optimism. Regulate your emotions by role-playing the negotiation with someone you trust beforehand, so that you can remain unflappable during the real thing. Above all else, separate for yourself the person you will be speaking with and the problem you are trying to solve—they are not the same.
- Ask Questions Strategically: In a negotiation, open-ended questions can be extremely powerful. These questions open up dialogue and can buy you more time if you need to gather your thoughts. Such questions, some examples of which are shown below, help guide and move the conversation along.
- Can you explain how you arrived at that solution?
- Are you willing to negotiate that point?
- What is keeping us from coming to an agreement?
- How could I help you feel more comfortable with this request?
- What is most important to you? Can you explain why?
- How can we move forward?
- How can we best . . . ?
- How can we make this work for both of us?
- Is that the best you can do?
- Use Silence for a Change: Silence can be one of the greatest negotiation strategies at your disposal. When you use silence strategically, you’re not over-promising or under-selling in ways you will later regret. You’ll not only be able to contemplate your next move, but silence often makes your counterpart share information, restate their position, or try to guess what your position is. Each of these attempts to break the silence put you in a more favorable position. The “silence strategy” is especially important for women since we may be tempted to accommodate our counterpart, fill a conversation void, or not want to seem “difficult” or withholding. The next time you’re in a negotiation situation, experiment with being quiet rather than speaking up right away.
- Look for Mutual Gains: Look for a way for both parties to win. One of the women executives I interviewed for my book, Roxanne Spillett, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, advised, “…Look for a ‘win-win’ in relationships and negotiations. Every time you think there’s a ‘win-loss’ situation, look for ways to make it mutually beneficial…. This is a pretty important practice as a leader.” Coming up with creative solutions and concessions can certainly show your willingness to get to common ground in a negotiation. However if you must concede something, negotiate to get something else back.