In her article “Nice Girls Don’t Ask,” Lisa Babcock outlined the financial costs of women’s reticence to negotiate:

Women Don't Ask

“The starting salaries of male MBAs who had recently graduated from Carnegie Mellon were 7.6%, or almost $4,000, higher on average than those of female MBAs from the same program. That’s because most of the women had simply accepted the employer’s initial salary offer; in fact, only 7% had attempted to negotiate. But 57% of their male counterparts—or eight times as many men as women—had asked for more.”

A large factor in women’s failure to negotiate is the worry that fighting for what they want and deserve will paint them as too aggressive, unlikeable, and can result in “gender blow-back—a subtle but powerful punishment for stepping outside our cultural gender role.”

Though these concerns are valid, avoiding negotiation puts women in a losing position. Babcock writes, “By avoiding negotiation, women sacrifice more than money. They also sacrifice visibility, training, and career growth.” So, what’s a nice girl to do?

The Importance of Negotiating

In her book Pushback, Washington Post columnist Selena Rezvani states:

“60 percent of a woman’s career success hinges on her pushback skills–holding her own, advocating her needs, and negotiating. Although technical skills, academic or business pedigree, and people skills emerged as necessities for those who want to lead, command of your own voice and ability to advocate, according to successful women executives, ranked higher.”

Face Your Fear

The first step in advocating for yourself is to identify your weaknesses and your strengths as a negotiator. How passive are you at work? Do your managers and colleagues know your ambitions or do you keep them to yourself? Do you come on too strong? Not strong enough? Be sure to ask colleagues and mentors for feedback.

If you don’t like negotiating, then take time to analyze why. Remember that negotiating often does bring up anxiety for almost everyone, and pushing for more in a time of economic uncertainty can feel risky, but success won’t come to those who don’t ask for it.

Do Your Homework

When entering into any form of negotiation, preparedness is everything. Make sure to craft a compelling case about the value you bring to the company.

Study effective negotiating techniques. In Pushback, Rezvani outlines the ways to navigate negotiations successfully by utilizing tools such as: establishing credibility, opening the conversation assertively, managing bullying, and exercising silence.

Follow Up

Treat negotiations as on-going relationships, not as one time events. Initiating a negotiation is crucial, and can be quite daunting, but continuing the conversation and following up is equally important.

As William Ury, cofounder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, recently said,

“Since women are more tuned to relationships, to me, that gives them an advantage in negotiation — particularly in negotiations where there are ongoing relationships, and those are, these days, the vast majority. They’re not just one-shot deals. Everyone wants ongoing relationships, be they with customers or partners or colleagues. Men have more of a tendency to treat negotiation like a transaction where one side wins and the other side loses. It has its place in certain negotiations, but it’s increasingly less relevant than a relational approach, where you look for solutions that work for both sides.”

Practice Makes Perfect

No one will become an ace negotiator right off the bat. In order to sharpen your skills and find your own personal negotiation style, you need to practice. Luckily, the workplace provides endless opportunities for self-advocacy. If you learn to ask for what you want and express your ambitions on a daily basis, then you will be much better prepared when you take the chance to grab for the brass ring.

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