Salary Negotiation Isn’t Pretty

When it comes to salary, women tend to take the agreeable route to avoid negotiating. But it doesn’t have to be a choice.

By Lee E. Miller and Jessica Miller

Davia Temin, president of Temin & Co. and former head of corporate marketing for General Electric Capital, remembers the exact moment she realized “almost everything is negotiable if you see it that way.” When she got out of business school, she accepted her first job as assistant to the director of development at the Columbia Business School without really negotiating.

While working there, however, she saw something that changed her view of what was possible. She had always assumed if you weren’t accepted at Columbia you either went to another business school or pursued something else. A few students, however, when they were rejected, sought out the director of admissions and asked what they could do to change her mind. To Davia’s amazement, the director did not simply send them away. She told them if they took four semesters of Advanced Calculus and Statistics and got an A in each, she would admit them. A handful of students took her up on her offer and were admitted. At that point Davia realized that, “way more things were negotiable than I had previously thought.” So she decided to learn how to negotiate.

Some women are uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating. Yet all day, every day we negotiate, even though we don’t necessarily think about it that way. While some people have more natural ability than others, no one is born a great negotiator. Negotiating is a skill that has to be learned. Many women who think they are not good negotiators simply have never been taught how. According to the highly successful women we interviewed for A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating, there are a number of common mistakes that women make:

Just Ask

Many women fail to recognize that opportunities to negotiate exist in almost every interaction we have, especially when it comes to compensation. They tend to look at situations in terms of decisions they have to make, rather than opportunities to negotiate. Women sometimes do not ask for things they want, out of fear of damaging a relationship. This fear often holds women back and prevents them from getting what they deserve. We call this the “Empathy Trap.” If you ask in the right way, you can get what you want and maintain or even strengthen your relationship. It never hurts to ask. Almost everything is negotiable if you see it that way. While you may not get everything you ask for, you will be amazed at what you can get.

Put Yourself First

Both men and women find it difficult negotiating for themselves, but women often have an even harder time doing so. Even a woman who is an exceptional negotiator, and who has no trouble negotiating on behalf of her organization, will often have a difficult time when it comes to negotiating for herself. Many a woman was raised to believe that asking for things for herself was being selfish. Sometimes just recognizing the tendency to put others’ needs ahead of your own is sufficient to avoid making this mistake. If you do your homework, you will know what is fair and reasonable to ask for. Don’t settle for less. One technique that can help is to see yourself as negotiating for someone else. Think about what you would do if you were advocating on behalf of someone whom you care about. Then do it.

Say “No”

Women also sometimes have difficulty saying “no,” particularly when they are dealing with someone they care about. Because women place a high value on relationships, they do not like saying “no.” They have a difficult time believing that if they say no, it won’t negatively affect the relationship. But being able to say “no” is critical when you are negotiating. It is frequently necessary to say no before you can get to yes. Successful negotiators know when and how to say “no.”

You do not have to say “no” loudly or aggressively. If, however, an offer is less than you think it should be, you need to point that out politely but firmly. If the person you are dealing with can’t, or won’t, improve the offer, you need to be willing to walk away. Being willing to say “no” to something that does not meet your needs will often result in the person you are dealing with finding a way to satisfy those needs, at least if you are flexible and willing to work with him.

Saying “no” is not personal. It is simply a way to exchange information. Looked at that way, saying “no” becomes a lot easier, as does accepting it from someone with whom you are negotiating.

These common negotiating mistakes are relatively easy to correct once you become aware that you are making them. Alexis Glick, former anchor and vice president of business news at the Fox Business Network, captured the essence of what negotiating can do for you, when she stated: “If you know how to negotiate you control your own destiny. You don’t have to rely on others to do it for you.” Learning to negotiate will empower you. Negotiating well will help you get what you deserve, not only in business but in your personal life as well. Once you master the art of negotiating, you will come to recognize that the only real limits to what you can achieve are those you place on yourself.

EDITORS’ NOTE: This article is adapted from the just-released ” A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating ” (McGraw-Hill, 2010) by Lee E. Miller and Jessica Miller.

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