Four Ways to Be a Better Negotiator

Small business advocate and entrepreneur Nellie Akalp shares a startling statistic and four ways in which you can improve your negotiating skills.

Can you become a better negotiator? 

Have you ever negotiated your salary or pay raise? Or do you prefer not to rock the boat (and besides, you’re pretty happy with their more-than-reasonable offer anyways)?

If you haven’t mastered the dance of negotiations, you’re far from alone.

A study of master’s degree graduates from Carnegie Mellon found that only 7% of female students tried to negotiate a higher offer for their starting salary (compared to 57% of the male students).

The gender divide in these results is startling. And, the reluctance to negotiate can have a significant impact on long-term salaries and leadership roles.  

Many women I know are brilliant at what they do. They work hard to provide value, develop their skills, and build important relationships. However, all these skills and smarts never make it to the negotiating table. 

Whether you’ve been in the workplace for decades, are just graduating college, or are an entrepreneur setting your own prices, you need to understand that you’re responsible for making sure you earn what you deserve. Here are four ways that you can learn to approach negotiations with confidence:

1. Always assume you’ll negotiate

It may sound obvious, but deciding to negotiate is the critical first step.

Don’t automatically accept whatever pay is offered; always assume that the first offer is negotiable.

You may be grateful for the opportunity, but recognize that employers or clients expect people to negotiate and often offer less than they’re prepared to pay. Once you accept the fact that the first offer should be negotiated, the rest flows from there.

2. Come prepared: know what you’re worth

Most likely, you’d never enter a client presentation or other meeting unprepared. So apply the same diligence to negotiations. Research your market value by using salary survey tools like Glassdoor.com, Salary.com, and PayScale.com. Look to see what other people in similar roles and geographic areas earn. Ask people you trust for their honest opinions. And keep in mind, that according to data in Women Don’t Ask, women’s salary expectations are anywhere from 3 to 32 percent lower than those of men for the same job.  

There was an interesting study that brought men and women into a lab where they were told one of two things: ‘Work until you think you've earned the $10 we just gave you,’ or ‘Work and then tell us how much you think you deserve.’ Are you surprised to learn that the women worked longer hours (with fewer errors) for Question 1 and then also paid themselves less for Question 2?

The moral of the story is that women should have a firm understanding of what the ‘industry norm’ is for compensation for their position and negotiate from there.   

3. Don’t approach negotiations as a competition

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg outlines the complex dynamics facing women in the workplace. She writes: “…Since women are expected to be concerned with others, when they advocate for themselves or point to their own value, both men and women react unfavorably…when a woman negotiates on her own behalf, she violates the perceived gender norm.”

To combat this dynamic, women can adopt a more cooperative approach during negotiations, putting the focus on the value they bring to the company or client.

Show a concern for the common good and frame negotiations as a win-win situation for everyone.

Having to ‘play nice’ may be an unfair burden for women in the workplace (and may not be right for every woman), but taking a cooperative rather than adversarial approach, can result in greater acceptance and success.  

4. Be your own advocate throughout your career

Maybe you’ve been raised to be modest and humble. You downplay your accomplishments and aren’t as comfortable highlighting your achievements as your male colleagues.

Many women work hard (really hard), keep their heads down, and assume all that amazing, hard work will pay off in the form of raises and more responsibilities.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the way it works in business. 

Outside of the negotiating room, you need to stay visible, keeping your accomplishments front and center and actively pursuing new opportunities. If you don’t mention your own achievements, who will? 

Five minutes of discomfort…

Very few people actually enjoy negotiations. It takes experience and practice. You may want to play out a few scenarios beforehand, and develop responses to each potential scenario. The best negotiators don’t fold on the first sign of resistance. Instead, ask clarifying questions, elongate the conversation, and get a chance to elaborate on your points.

It may not be a comfortable conversation, but those five minutes of feeling awkward can have a big impact on your future. After all, you won’t receive if you don’t ask. 

To read our 2012 interview with Nellie, click here.

Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur, small business advocate and mother of four. As CEO of CorpNet.com, a legal document preparation filing service, Nellie helps entrepreneurs start a businessIncorporateForm an LLC, set up Sole Proprietorships (DBAs) and maintain a business in compliance with state filing requirements for a new or existing business.

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