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Negotiating to Get Ahead: A Guide for Women

Negotiating is one of those untaught but critical professional skills, and it can be especially challenging for women. But the ability to bargain well can mean the difference between cubicle and corner office. Here are some tips from the pros to prep you for your next give-and-take.

By Kristin Clarke, CAE

Some female professionals balk at the idea that they negotiate any differently than men, but research shows otherwise. One study, for instance, found that eight of 100 women counter a job offer, versus 50 of 100 men. Another reveals that women are especially effective when negotiating on behalf of others but are more likely to second-guess positions when bartering for themselves.  

But perhaps the most pertinent question is, Should women negotiate differently? Jessica Miller, author of A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating, confirms that men and women bring different attributes to the bargaining table.

“How a woman negotiates should always depend on her personality and the specific situation,” says Miller, who negotiates commercial real estate deals at Cushman & Wakefield. Generally speaking, though, “men tend to be more competitive, and women tend to be more collaborative and relationship-driven. So women need to ensure they are using their relationships to help them get what they want and not let the relationship obstruct the outcome.”

If you go in understanding and believing in the value you have, it’s easier to ask for what you want.

-Pamela Green

Evaluating the other party’s personality, your relationship with him or her, and the frequency with which you two must bargain should determine which negotiation tactics you use, Miller says.

“Most importantly, you need to adopt a style effective for you,” she says. “Being genuine will help you be more confident and, therefore, more successful…. Confidence is the secret weapon in any negotiation.” Without it, “your counterpart won’t take you seriously, [so] determine what you want and ask for it.”

Two common mistakes Miller has observed in women negotiators: taking bad news too personally and underestimating their chances of success. “Women often see offers as yes-or-no options instead of as opportunities to ask for what they really want,” she says. “You’ll be surprised at what you get just by asking for it in an appropriate way at the right time.”

Pamela Green, president and CEO of the HR Coaching Institute, recommends another powerful negotiating tactic for women: silence.

“It’s OK that there’s some discomfort in the room,” says Green. “You don’t have to be the first person to speak, but you have to walk out feeling respected. You must be able to walk away from the table when you don’t feel you get what you deserve.”

Miller agrees: “If you do your research, have a good backup plan, and are willing to walk away, you’ll find you have a lot of power even if you don't think you do. No one negotiates with you unless you have something they want.”

That value is all the more reason women should avoid another common misstep: falling into what Green calls “the empathy trap.” This mistake occurs when women understand what the other party needs and become more likely to give it, even at their own expense.

 “We tend to go to a compromising place. We want to make nice,” Green says. “If you go in understanding and believing in the value you have, it’s easier to ask for what you want versus what you think they want you to say.”

Smart body language can communicate that confidence. Miller urges women to stay calm, keep eye contact, and stop fidgeting. Green advises “taking up some landscape on the table” by keeping your arms above the table, using your hands and holding your body upright, and keeping your voice well-paced and even.

“Lean in to the conversation, so it’s clear you’re engaged,” she says. Avoid nonverbal “date” language like touching your hair or tilting your head, and keep emotions in check.

“You don’t want someone to see you become emotional unless you’re using the emotions to purposely drive home a point,” Miller says. “Even then, make sure emotions don’t cloud your judgment or your communications.”

Ultimately, Green advises, don’t become “too committed to any deal or blame yourself if you can’t make it happen. It’s usually not personal. Walking away doesn’t mean the negotiations are over, if you know how to walk away right.”

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is executive director of the Section on Women’s Health-APTA. Email: [email protected]


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