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Are negotiators born or made? Do your negotiating skills depend on your gender?

Mastering the art of negotiation is a game-changer for your career, but the question lingers: are negotiators born or made?

When it comes to women and negotiations, societal norms have often held them back from asserting their worth in salary talks, promotions, or benefit discussions. Gender stereotypes, though evolving, still linger. However, as women ascend to leadership positions, outdated biases are crumbling—except when it comes to negotiations.

The persistent myth that women are less effective negotiators than men persists, despite evidence to the contrary. Disproving this notion are countless skilled women negotiators who challenge the status quo. Still, women face unique challenges at the negotiation table, often stemming from internal factors ingrained in cultural upbringing and external attitudes.

It is nevertheless true that generally speaking, women and men tend to have different strengths behind their negotiation skills, but they can—and do—achieve similar outcomes at the negotiation table.

Women face unique challenges at the negotiation table. Some of those challenges are internal, rooted in many women’s common cultural upbringing. Other challenges, however, involve the attitudes and behaviours of those around them.

Areen Shahbari, CEO of Shahbari Training & Consultancy and an instructor in Harvard’s five-week women’s leadership program, Women Leaders: Advancing Together, notes that women often show more interest in interpersonal relationships at the bargaining table (Kray&Gelfand, 2009). Seeing negotiation as a conflict that might impact the relationship negatively, can cause women to negotiate less assertively or avoid negotiating at all.

Conflict is neither negative nor positive. Conflict is neutral and is needed to reveal the interests, goals, and needs of each negotiating party. Negotiation brings people who might have different views together. There should be a shared common goal between them. Conflict is a natural part of figuring out what that common goal is.

says Shahbari, and emphasizes that women's focus on interpersonal relationships sometimes hinders assertiveness at the bargaining table. Viewing negotiation as a potential source of conflict, women may negotiate less assertively or avoid it altogether.

To hone negotiation skills, women must unravel these challenges and devise strategies to overcome them. Shahbari advises making negotiations rational, understanding rejection, and persisting through multiple negotiation rounds.

Negotiation can be—and usually is—an extended process that rarely follows a straight line to the conclusion.

And it can be challenging to cope with the rejection and setbacks that are a natural part of the negotiation process.

“If you ask for something and don’t get it, that feeling of rejection can be a huge emotional disappointment,” says Shahbari.

Making the negotiations rational and keeping the process in perspective is incredibly crucial. Instead of walking away, take the time to understand why your request got rejected. Understand that you might need to negotiate multiple times to get the outcome you want” says Shahbari.

Contrary to the stereotype that aggression wins negotiations, Shahbari suggests that competitive cultures may act as gender triggers. Women can leverage alternative strengths like active listening and reading non-verbal signals to gain valuable insights into the other party's goals.

Women’s strong points when it comes to negotiation:

  • According to Shahbari, women negotiators often excel at negotiating on behalf of others, such as their team or their organization. “For example, if a woman finds out that women at her organization are earning less than men, she can negotiate on behalf of herself and others at her organization, which would result in a better outcome for herself and others at her organization,” Shahbari explains.

  • Women are often highly effective when it comes to negotiating for the things they care the most about. Their own career, equal pay between women and men in the company they work for. Flexible work arrangements. …

Women, nevertheless, tend to get worse results than men in certain types of negotiations. the first one being: negotiating the salary. The main reason for that is:

  • As my favourite band sings: if you never try, you'll never know: Women are more likely than men to avoid a salary or a job negotiation altogether, primarily due to the risk of negatively impacting their future working relationships in that organization. In one study, for example, only 7% of women coming out of business school negotiated their starting salary, compared to 57% of men. Failure to negotiate that first salary can lead to a $7,000 pay gap that first year. That wage gap then grows to as much as $1 million throughout a 45-year career. Take a moment to read these last three sentences again. Woah.

  • Women tend to underestimate their professional value. Without a clear and accurate assessment of what you should be making, relative to others, it becomes more challenging to make the right opening offer and to set the appropriate goals. Unfortunately, starting a job negotiation with a low opening offer or accepting an offer that is too low makes it difficult to level the playing field and achieve a salary that matches your real worth to the organization.

In this article, we’ll discuss the art of negotiation in the workplace and how you can develop the skills you need to succeed.

How to be a better negotiator for yourself and finally get what you deserve:

1. First and foremost: Know Your Worth.

It’s important to start any job negotiation with an accurate and realistic assessment of your value, both in terms of role and salary.

Be honest and articulate about your contributions to the organization. Frame your list in terms of “I”, not “we”, but also show how your contributions have led your team and your organization to greater success.

If you are engaging in a salary negotiation, you also need to research, in advance, what someone in your role should be making. If your organization isn’t transparent about salary ranges, use your list of responsibilities to research what similar roles command on websites such as Glassdoor or Payscale.

2. Define Goals and Desired Outcomes in Advance

Effective negotiation starts with thorough preparation. Before entering any negotiation, research the topic, understand the interests of all parties involved, and identify your desired outcomes. Anticipate potential objections and develop strategies to address them. Knowledge and preparation give you a competitive advantage and boost your confidence during the negotiation process.

Don’t be afraid to start the negotiations with your most ambitious goals. Before starting any negotiation, think carefully about what is really important to you and where you can compromise. Be clear from the outset what you cannot accept and then stick to it. It can also be helpful to brainstorm the other side’s goals and priorities. Think through potential scenarios from their perspective so you are ready to address their goals in a way that also meets your goals.

3. Cultivate Active Listening Skills

Active listening involves repeating, in your own words, what you hear the other person saying before you respond. This ensures that you understand what it is the other side is asking for. And it’s a great way to diffuse tension in a difficult situation. Picking up on nonverbal communication is also critical in negotiation. Reading the other party’s body language can give you vital—but unspoken—clues about their bargaining position.

Listening is a critical part of negotiation. When you talk to the other party, it is important to listen carefully to what they have to say and identify their needs, expectations, and concerns. This will help you find common ground and understand what they are willing to compromise on. Assuring them that you are hearing them out and genuinely trying to understand their point of view can help build trust and establish rapport, making the negotiation more productive.

4. Communicate clearly

Communication is the key to successful negotiation. You need to be able to articulate your thoughts and ideas effectively to the other party. Be clear, concise, and confident in your communication. Also, try to avoid using jargon or technical terms that the other party might not be familiar with. Using body language and tone effectively to convey your intentions can help to build credibility and improve your chances of success in the negotiation.

5. Don’t be afraid of being assertive

Women should feel comfortable being assertive about their goals. As Shahbari notes,

It’s your right to advocate for your own needs and interests.

and I would add, for your value. Do not fear sounding “bossy” or even “unfeminine” (what does that even mean), if you are advocating for your interests and needs you are just doing what is right and what anyone would do if they were in your position. It is your right to see your needs and interests met.

Repeat with me: it is your right. You worked hard to get here. you deserve it. You are not asking for the moon, you are asking for the bare minimum if you’re asking for your interests and needs to be respected.

Being assertive means that you understand and advocate for your own needs, that you understand and protect your boundaries. Negotiating with assertiveness and empathy means understanding what you need as well as what the party you negotiate with needs, and it means caring about your interests as much as you care about the other party’s interests. Instead of engaging in a win-lose kind of approach, you open up a dialogue where both sides can work together to find ways to ‘make the negotiation pie bigger'.

I recently had a conversation with my superior, the ultimate girl-boss woman with a great career, and she told me: “I lost count of the number of brilliant and talented women I saw under-selling themselves out of humbleness.” and she continued: “Don’t you dare to be humble. I will intervene myself if I catch you being too humble and shy. State your value. I want to see it black on white. State all the goals you brilliantly achieved, all the tasks you managed so well and completed with determination and professionalism. Stand up for yourself. You owe it to your hard work.”

Make the other party feel heard and understood, and aim for a win-win solution, not a win-lose one.

6. Control your emotions

Negotiations are often stressful and can cause emotions to run high. It is crucial to keep your emotions in check during the negotiation as they can cloud your judgment and reduce your credibility. Try to stay calm, cool, and collected throughout the conversation, even if the other party is emotional or confrontational. Focus on the issues at hand and try not to take it personally if the other party disagrees with you.

7. Practice makes perfect

“Negotiation skills are like any other skill—we have to practice it to be good at it,” says Shahbari. That doesn’t just mean reviewing and practising your pitch (although you should do that as well). It means starting a negotiation any time you get the chance. Part of overcoming fears and discomfort is going out and practising. “Practicing is the key to learning how to negotiate, to learning the steps in a negotiation, to believing in yourself and advocating for your needs and interests.”

8. Follow-Up

Following up after a negotiation is just as critical as the negotiation itself. It shows that you are committed to the agreement reached, and it helps to build a long-term relationship with the other party. It also allows you to review the negotiation and identify areas for improvement that can be applied to future negotiations.

For some women, as for some men, negotiation comes easily and feels like a natural way to do business. For others, it can be a struggle. Yet regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, negotiating is a skill that can be learned, improved, and even mastered.

By preparing thoroughly, actively listening, focusing on interests, and aiming for win-win solutions, you can become a skilled negotiator. Remember to be flexible, and open-minded, and use effective communication to create a constructive negotiation environment. Controlling emotions, seeking common ground, being patient, and documenting agreements are additional strategies that contribute to successful negotiations. As you master the art of negotiation, you will be better equipped to navigate workplace challenges and achieve mutually beneficial results for all parties involved.

Negotiation, once seen as an innate talent, is a skill that can be learned and perfected. By adopting effective strategies, women can navigate workplace challenges and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Mastering negotiation opens doors to professional growth and empowerment.

So, are you ready to seize what you deserve?



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