Negotiations: the Advantage of being a Woman...And the Mistakes she Makes

This article is written by Karen Hough, Founder and CEO of ImprovEdge and the Author of “The Improvisation Edge: Secrets to Building Trust and Radical Collaboration at Work”.
Karen HoughThere’s a common misconception that the best negotiators are unyielding tough nuts who yell and pound their fists.  However, those who engage in a collaborative process with a win-win outcome are the most successful.

For over 12 years, I’ve been working with professional negotiators in Fortune 500 companies. I’ve seen impressive skills in both men and women, but there are some gender-specific trends I’ve noticed.

If we as women can focus more on our strengths, we can become exponentially better negotiators. Whether you are negotiating a million-dollar contract or bedtime for a 4-year-old, women have collaborative advantages in negotiation.

First, where do we fall down?
Mistake #1:  We don’t negotiate. I call this “price-tag syndrome”. We believe that the price we see is non-negotiable. Believe it or not, you can negotiate anywhere. Ask the grocer to give you tomorrow’s sale since you are shopping today. And when gathering competitive estimates, ALWAYS ask, “What can you do for me on this number? ”

Mistake #2:  We negotiate against ourselves.Sorry friends, but women are the WORST at this! We walk in with 10% already knocked off the price of our proposals before the client even asks. If they are silent, we fill the gap with promises to shave the number, or we give up extra services. Know your value – know your price – and present it confidently.
Mistake #3: We undervalue ourselves. This mistake is common amongst female entrepreneurs setting prices and female executives wanting a raise. Get some competitive analysis! Find out what the market is paying for services or jobs just like yours. Then make sure your prices reflect the market plus any special skills you bring to the table. Ask for more - you’re worth it.

Now, let’s concentrate on our strengths.
The Improviation EdgeAdvantage #1: We ask questions. In negotiation, the person asking questions and listening is the one with the power, not the one talking all the time. It is especially important to hone your skill in asking open-ended questions; the type that requires a narrative answer. “Tell me more about your work in pharmaceuticals.” Questions also allow us to catch our breath or clarify an important point. If you feel stumped, a good open-ended question can buy time and enlighten us.

Advantage#2:  We prefer agreement over conflict. When we are able to keep ourselves and those in the room calm, agreeable and talking, everything in negotiation goes better. Understand that when emotions show up, it’s time to take a break. Get out of the room or call back. If you are feeling confrontational, emotions might lead your decisions.

Advantage #3: We can read body language.
Women often admit that they had a “gut feeling” about someone or something. When you ignore your instinctual response to a negotiation situation, you are endangering your success. If the other person seems uncomfortable, confused or anxious, note it. It may explain some of their demands or behavior. Also, watch your own body language and be sure that it is in alignment with your goals. If you want the conversation to be collaborative, keep your arms uncrossed and lean forward.
Look for the collaborative win/win in any negotiation. If one party wins it all, and the other party loses it all, the deal will probably fall through. When all parties walk away from a negotiation with something they wanted, everyone considers it a win. Those deals usually stay in place, and the parties can return to negotiate again, agreeably, on the next deal.

Karen Hough is the Founder and CEO of ImprovEdge and the Author of “The Improvisation Edge: Secrets to Building Trust and Radical Collaboration at Work” published by Berrett-Koehler. She speaks internationally and writes on negotiation, leadership, sales, and presenting with impact, and is the recipient of the Athena Award for outstanding woman-owned business.

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