According to three Australian business school professors—Mara Olekalns, Ruchi Sinha, and Carol T. Kulik—women face negotiation challenges unique to their gender. And because “ … negotiations are woven through the fabric of our everyday working lives,” it is critical that they master the skills they need to manage themselves, their teams, and their work effectively.
Aside from negotiating for pay or promotions, the three most common negotiations for women involve work resources, professional development, and work-life balance. In all these areas, many of the women interviewed in the professors’ recent study saw negotiation as a “battlefield where a lack of information or clarity on what you (or others) want is a disadvantage.”
Professors Olekalns, Sinha, and Kulik have identified three unique negotiation challenges for women.
#1 Balancing self-advocacy and communality
Women have often been reluctant to advocate for career advancement out of fear of being regarded as “pushy, unlikeable, and undesirable team members.” ( I recall hearing both men and women describe Hillary Clinton this way.)
The professors recommend balancing warmth and assertiveness during negotiations, first showing that you understand the needs of the others involved. They also recommend framing your ask in the context of your team. For example, you might “frame a salary increase as fair compensation given your contributions to the team (rather than as an Individual want.)“
#2 Managing difficult emotions
This is a biggie. Women have reported feeling anxious and worried, because they perceive that a negotiation might not end well. During negotiations—and after—they have described the challenges around managing frustration, anger, and hurt.
You may be able to reduce anxiety through a strategy of defensive pessimism where you reduce your expectations and consider how a negotiation could unfold. Assuming things will not go well can help you prepare better for resistance and be ready to provide your opposite number additional information. The underlying theory is that the more you prepare, the more you will reduce your anxiety level. Understanding what triggers your negative emotions will help you distance yourself from them and the damage you can cause by an imprudent response. Focusing on how you can do better next time will help you leverage your experience going forward. Of course, training yourself not to become attached to a specific outcome pretty much without saying.
#3 Overcoming interpersonal resistance
The authors point out that negotiators may use power plays to influence or undermine. Respondents in their study cited such examples as a manager missing a scheduled meeting, overreacting to an ask, or behaving in an unpredictable or volatile way. They comment, “We know that women face more resistance in negotiations than men, and building capacity to persist despite it emerged as a clear theme in our interviews.”
So what to do? “Building grit is key.” Recognizing that one is in it for the long term and persisting are critical to building strength and resilience. So is mobilizing the confidence to overcome obstacles. In this environment, it’s important to see setbacks as opportunities to learn more about those with whom you’re negotiating and to develop constructive responses.
This is such a rich article. I’ve only touched on major points and recommend you read it in its entirety. Though the authors see these three challenges as unique to women in negotiations, I can’t help but think they also apply to men. After all, how many men have you encountered who have confessed that they don’t look forward to negotiating and wonder if they have the skills to be successful.