We are negotiating something every day. Whether it's salary, a promotion with a new title, a private office, a parking space with your name on it, clean air and water, homework, where to go on vacation, new cars, a new couch, or our neighbor's new fence, we face asking for what we want, need or deserve with a great deal of frequency.
For many people (statistically, women) negotiating induces hives. For reasons ancient and cultural, it hijacks our amygdala and engages our fear of conflict and rejection, and keeps us silent.
To understand the nature and implication of our hive-getting tendencies, in this century alone countless research studies on gender and negotiation, power, promotion, pay gap, productivity and bottom line, have been hurled into public consumption and subsequently chewed and digested by all forms of media, and then interpreted into "good advice for women" by well-meaning managers, teachers, trainers, coaches, and consultants-myself included.
As a result, I began to notice a kind of paralysis-a deer-in-headlights confusion about the litany of contradictory advice women should pay attention to if we want to thrive in our careers.
- Be strong, but don't be bossy.
- Be powerful, but be deferential
- Sing your own praises, but be inclusive and use the "we" voice
- Be passionate, but don't be emotional or cry
- Be collaborative but don't be a doormat
While that list might sound like good advice regardless of gender, women know and experience these directives as a double bind that requires doubling down. In other words, if you want to be successful, ascend in your career, and claim your place at the table, you have to be doubly competent and hyper mindful of the minefield--the gender blowback borne of implicit bias--if you so much as blow your nose.
Who can live like that?
Furthermore, how will we shift the balance in terms of true diversity and equality if we continue to conform to expectations? And one more, very elemental consideration is what will move us from fear to competence?
I can give you a framework for negotiation success that would look like this:
- Open with small talk
- Ask open-ended questions to discover goals and interests
- Anchor first and anchor high
- Frame your request for mutual benefit
- Meet no and impasse with questions
- Brainstorm possibilities
- Get to agreement
You can find some variation of this very basic framework-along with many other beautiful strategies and tactics of mutual benefit negotiation-in every great book on negotiation. But that framework will be of no value to you unless you do one thing first: build your foundation.
Focus on Your Foundation with Five Key Actions
What I am warming up to here is that it's time to find a way to get the world and the workplace to conform to you. And that means engaging your activist alchemy-to be strategic and politically savvy without violating your sense of self or your values; to advocate for yourself and others while preserving your reputation and your relationship.
The mammoth question that might be on your lips is, "How the heck to I do that?" Fair enough. My answer to finding the "how" is to step on the backpedal, and start fresh at ground zero with five key actions.
Key Action #1: Find Yourself
You are who you are, and you can only be who you are. If you are shy and quiet, it's not likely that you will succeed in willing yourself to become a gregarious backslapper. Yes, you can add skills and degrees and certifications; you can sharpen your strengths and delegate your weaknesses; you can seek experiences that take you to your edge, like standing in the limelight. But starting at ground zero requires some reflection if you are going to move in a more authentic, purposeful direction.
- Make an exhaustive list of everything you've accomplished and contributed in the past year or two.
- Mine that list for three things: values, strengths and repeating themes.
What you learn from this exercise should give you the self-intelligence to pursue goals, choices and learning that honors your values and makes best use of your core strengths.
Key Action #2: Find Your Allies
Because you are who you are and you can only be who you are, and your strengths, contributions and future potential are of value to others (both inside and outside your organization), connect with them. They need you as much as you need them, especially when navigating potential bias and other inequities.
- Given your career goals, identify who has the power to help you achieve them, and put them on your radar immediately. This is your "influence posse."
- Connect with people who are working on projects that you would like to be a part of.
- Offer your help-before you're asked if possible.
- Ask for reciprocity when the timing is right. If you don't, you'll risk being perceived as a doormat.
Key Action #3: Find the Double Coincidence of Wants
Because your strengths, contributions and future potential are of value to others, always be looking for the double coincidence of wants-that place where your strategic career goals map to your ally's strategic career goals.
- Develop a list of open-ended, "diagnostic" questions you can ask to determine what your ally wants and needs.
- Once you understand their goals and preferences, you can frame what you bring to the party as a benefit to you and your conversation partner.
- Be prepared to tell a success story that shows-not tells-how you do what you do.
Key Action #4: Find the Elephant
As I wrote earlier, most negotiations we deal with day in and day out are problem solving, value creating conversations. If you are trying to solve a problem, like improving your win rate on proposals, and you keep hitting roadblocks, likely an elephant is lurking in the living room.
Perhaps someone on your team is weak with the technical aspects, or you don't rehearse enough. That might be what everyone is thinking, but not talking about. So know that if the elephant isn't in the living room, it might be in the closet, and you are just the person to let it out.
- Identify, for yourself, what you think the issue is
- Ask to speak with your "elephant" partner(s)
- Find out what you want first-your high level goal
- Take your part and refrain from leaning on your story
- Brainstorm strategies
- Agree on key actions and accountabilities (what, who and by when)
Key Action #5: Find the Money in Bossy
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg tells a story about being called bossy as a child and her experience of being perceived as aggressive in her career. Her story, and research bears this out, demonstrates that bossy is a female pejorative, and that both men and women perceive bossy behavior as somehow contrary to good leadership. On the other hand, you can call a man aggressive, or even a jerk, and he will more likely achieve and retain his power and leadership (Steve Jobs comes to mind).
So what do you do if you are a woman navigating your career at any stage where you have some kind of authority?
- Find Yourself
- Find Your Allies
- Find the Double Coincidence of Wants
- Find the Elephant
When you get good at the above, and you run into bias and pushback on your ideas or proposals or, yes, your bossy behavior, find your activism and speak truth to power. Reframe the pushback.
Let me give you an example. Jessie was a client of mine a few years back who was an engineer and product director in a well-loved tech company. She was tapped for having leadership bones, and on her way to the c-suite, but had been told by her boss-a notorious screamer-that her "demanding and exacting" leadership style would hold her back, even though she was loved and admired by her team and by leadership.
She then asked her boss, "If you were me, what would you do?" And her boss said, "You know, be kinder. Listen more."
And then Jessie stepped into dangerous waters. She said, "I'm committed to hitting our production targets and always improving productivity. That's what I'm known for. I'm paid to be demanding and I have a team who loves me. This smells like a double standard to me. What if I asked you to be kinder, and listen more?"
The conversation between Jessie and her boss transformed their relationship. Their conversation was frank and difficult, yes. And because she found the money in bossy, and hooked into her confidence and activism along the way, her boss was able to see himself inside his own bias.
Granted, not every boss is built the way Jessie's boss was. But the upshot of these Five Key Actions is that they take commitment and practice, and each involves having conversations that lead to agreement. And that is what negotiation is-a conversation leading to a good agreement.
Lisa is a negotiation consultant and executive coach who knows how to bridge the gap between self worth and net worth. She is the co-founder of She Negotiates and author of four titles at lynda.com, including Negotiation Fundamentals, Conflict Resolution Fundamentals, Coaching and Developing Employees and Asking for a Raise.