A question for you: what is your relationship with negotiation?

What happens in your body when you hear the word? What happens to heart rate, body tension? What memories come up — positive or negative?

If you don’t like negotiation, you need to know:
1. You aren’t alone
2. It can be different.

It’s possible to transform that squeamish, get-me-out-of-here attitude to a totally different experience where you feel comfortable — and even enjoy — negotiating. That’s my story.

I started as someone who figured out how little she could live on and then suggested that for her salary (nice, huh?) and now am someone who actually enjoys a serious salary negotiation.

What made the difference for me was simply this: training in negotiation, specifically for women.

Research shows that while men think of negotiation as something similar to “wrestling a match” or “winning a ballgame,” women tend of think of it as something like “going to the dentist.” Sounds about right — doesn’t it?

Women find it so unpleasant they often opt out. Over their lives, men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women, and 20% of women never negotiate at all.

And listen to this: in many industries the pay gap between men and women is equivalent to the amount that men’s salaries were increased through their negotiations — suggesting that the pay gap in those industries in mostly due to women not asking for more money.

Of course, negotiation is not just about money. We need negotiation to get the work flexibility we want, and perhaps most importantly — to determine what responsibilities and projects our jobs will and will not involve. Entrepreneurs need it to. Women not working need it to – to deal with the insurance company, the neighbors, the other people on the volunteer committee, your kids’ doctor…you get the idea.

Like many women, for a long time I made the mistake of just not negotiating. I also made the mistake of thinking negotiation is something special that happened rarely – when I got a new job, for example. I came to see that negotiation is actually a kind of conversation that happens every day — as we interact with other people, who have different needs and preferences than we do. Without negotiation, people’s needs get squashed. Resentment festers. Passive aggressive and manipulative behavior arises in an attempt to meet needs that were not discussed – explicitly – in negotiation. All kinds of dysfunction happens! Women make the mistake of thinking we can keep relationships clean and harmonious by keeping negotiation out of the picture. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When you think about the impact of going through all those situations in your life day in and day out without a negotiation toolkit – and a concept of negotiation – that really serves you well — that’s big.

So why is it so tough for women to negotiate? Several reasons. We have a screwed up concept of what negotiation is ( that is a kind of high-risk, adversarial interaction) and that makes us freaked out about it. We value harmony. Highlighting areas where our desires or preferences conflict with another person’s? That can feel totally odd, crazy, impossible.

Second, we underestimate ourselves. Even if we’ve been offered the job, even if we’ve been invited into the partnership (or whatever the situation may be) we aren’t likely to see we are wanted, valued, and that we have leverage. Power. Influence. And we really can’t see that asking for stuff could actually benefit our relationship with the other party — deepen it, allow them to feel they’ve given something important to us, allow them to know the exchange is really working.

And then of course for women, there’s always the specter of the things we don’t want to be called. We don’t want to be called a bitch. We don’t want to be seen as “not nice.” We don’t want people to say “who does she think she is?” We all know that we don’t say and don’t do a lot of things because of those fears.

What helped me tremendously in my own life was getting some real negotiation training, training specifically designed for women. I went from hating and being scared of negotiation to kinda looking forward to it (really!) and seeing it as a time when I got to feel great about myself, ask for what I needed, and have a rich and real dialogue (usually over days, weeks – not minutes) about what the other party could do to ensure everyone’s needs got met.

Negotiation is not just a business or life skill. It’s much deeper than that. For women, it’s about how we are able to know and honor our own needs, and then deal with those needs in the (ack!) real world where people might have a thing or two to say about them.

It’s also about, spiritually, a kind of coming into the light — the light of realizing how much we are worth to the people we work with, the light of how much power we have to get our needs met. It’s about getting rid of the beliefs we have about how we have to compromise here and there — and seeing that the possibilities are greater than we thought they were.

That’s why, I’d ask you today to take a look, or do some journaling about:
What’s your relationship with negotiation?
What comes up for you around it?
What kind of negotiator do you want to be?
Where in your life is negotiation called for – and you are turning away from it?

Love, Tara


photo credit: Bryan Minear

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Tara Gentile says:

    Hand raised!

    I’m in that category of women who can’t stand to negotiate. Negotiating with myself is difficult enough.

    All the successful women I admire are so good at negotiating – and it comes across as confident, direct speech. I love that.

    I know it’s something I need to improve but it’s hard to know just where to start.

  • Jen says:

    I love this! I have negotiated in the past and felt nervous about what the other person would think. Recently, I approached it with the perspective you’re sharing…I felt excited and strong because I was shedding years of shrinking when it came time to negotiate. I would love to hear your thoughts on what happens when you don’t get what you came for…as you mentioned with the salaries…How do you know when you’re getting all the other party really has to offer? This is still a sticking point for me!

  • Kylie says:

    I could definitely do with some different thinking around negotiation. I even find using the word ‘negotiation’ is helpful, since sometimes those kind of communication ideas are framed as conflict or assertiveness skills, and for some reason both those (even assertiveness) raise my heart rate! They have a more adversarial sense to me, and that just makes me want to run! I find it inspiring too that someone who comes across as kind and warm as you Tara is also able to negotiate well. Lots of food for thought here! Thank you!

  • Beth says:

    This post couldn’t have been better timed. I’m tackling more and more negotiations lately, and everything you said hit home in a very productive way. Thank you!

  • KH says:

    Yes, perfect synchronicity 😉

  • Lora says:

    WOW! thanks for this post. Where did u get your training on negotiating? I sure could use some training!
    Thanks again!

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