The Art of Negotiating: How Women Can Be Better At It

The Art of NegotiationMany women miss opportunities from negotiations for the simple reason that it can put them so far outside of their comfort zone that they panic. Yet, negotiating is an essential skill that is certain to boost your business, career, and self-worth. And make no mistake about it: not taking the art of negotiating seriously could hamper your progress.

Whether you manage your own business and need to get a good deal on a partnership or contract, an Executive that needs to negotiate business deals, are psyching yourself up to ask your boss for a salary raise, or need to deal with conflict at work without backing down, being better at negotiating is key, and below are several ways to do just that.

Negotiate from a Position of Power and Influence

Men are traditionally known to be more forward than their female counterparts when it comes to negotiations, as their traditionally assertive role in society means they generally aren’t afraid to ask for what they want and they enjoy the interaction. Women, in contrast, often lack this skill as they are generally not confident and feel uncomfortable, which may mean letting the other person get their own way in deals.

When professor and author Linda Babcock was researching for her book Women Don’t Ask, she found that there was a 7.6% difference between the salaries female MBAs were getting compared to those of male MBAs. During her research, Babcock also discovered that approximately 7% of women tried to negotiate initial salary offers compared to 57% of men. This tells us two key things: that negotiating is crucial for getting a better deal, and you won’t get it unless you try. As such, having the confidence and will to negotiate is an important first step in this regard.

Prepare Notes Beforehand

Go into negotiations knowing exactly what you want, including your baseline on what you are willing to accept. It’s not enough to have an outcome in mind—you need to detail that outcome and write it down, along with clear steps towards your aims. This will help you show the other party (or parties) that you have thought things through, have really studied your options, and have strong reasons to support your case. Sometimes, half the challenge of convincing others is convincing yourself first!

Preparing notes beforehand also lets you avoid getting confused and guides you when it comes to what you need to say and when to say it. Doing so gives you a chance to outline what you would be willing to settle for as well, should you need to compromise during negotiations. We recommend you know your position, tactics and outcomes and enter into negotiations without notes.

Be Clear About What You Need

Accomplished Australian businesswoman Geraldine Buckingham, global head of corporate strategy for BlackRock, explains that you should be explicit about what you need whenever negotiating. She says she used to try to slip what she wanted into talks instead of being absolutely direct, which often led to miscommunication and didn’t always bring her the result she desired. Now, she advises that women state their outcomes in a concise way so a clear conversation can be had, resulting in less confusion and miscommunication between the parties involved.

Be Mindful of Your Body Language

As well as having confidence and using clear language, it also helps to pay attention to your movements while negotiating, even the most subtle ones. If you squirm and look uncomfortable, you’ll look less convincing and the person you’re talking to will know they have the upper hand no matter which words come out of your mouth.

There are plenty of guides on improving your body language, and some of the basic principles which can be applied to negotiations include:

  • Make eye contact. This gives you a more confident and genuine aura and helps build positive rapport with the person you’re negotiating with.
  • Practice your handshake so it’s firm but not too strong. This conveys a sense of self-assurance on your part as well as confidence.
  • Ensure you seem like you’re actively listening to the other person. Not only is it polite, it will make them feel more comfortable. This means you can have a genuine conversation with them and that they’ll possibly be more open to what you’re proposing.

Positive Interactions

There’s a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. Don’t relentlessly pursue your outcome if you keep hearing “no.” Keep your interactions as positive as possible. Ensure you are willing to compromise, and keep conversations to convince the other person to give you another meeting in the future. Ask what you can do to keep negotiations alive and tell them that you will be pursuing the aims they outline in the meantime.

Remember, a negotiation doesn’t ensure that your demands will be met. Leaving a positive impression on the other party is important as is building relationships, as it helps ensure that they’ll be open to future negotiations with you. However, coming off too strong or aggressive will result in the opposite, effectively closing the doors on future negotiations with a specific party.

Negotiating, when done correctly, can help you progress faster, close business deeds, resolve issues and conflict situations better, or even be a great leader and communicator. If you want key advice on how to be better at negotiations, we recommend joining organisations aimed at the professional development of women. At Behind Closed Doors, we help career and businesswomen improve their skills through networking, mentorship, and other resources, enabling them to progress further, reach greater heights, and take their careers and businesses to the next level.


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Moving on from Failure the Right Way

moving on from failureWhat do Emily Dickinson, Oprah Winfrey, and Marilyn Monroe all have in common? Well, apart from being some of history’s most well-known women in their respective fields, all three have suffered the same thing: significant setbacks during their careers.

Dickinson received countless rejection letters before her work was published, Monroe was told she should set her sights lower and become a secretary, and Winfrey was even sacked from her job as an on-screen reporter because she was, laughably, told she was “unfit for TV.”

But another thing these women have in common? Their willingness to keep trying in the face of adversity and even downright failure.

Yet that’s easier said than done. So how exactly do you motivate yourself to fight back when something serious stalls your business or career trajectory?

Keep It in Perspective

Key is you need to try to keep everything in perspective. When you look back at the many years you’ve been in your business or profession, the failures you’ve experienced are going to pale in significance or become memorable in a positive way because you used them as stepping stones to success. Take successful Australian businesswoman Sarah Cordiner as an example. When the government completely cut funding to her company training for long-term unemployed people in remote areas, she was devastated. Instead of wallowing in failure, however, she immediately spent eight weeks launching a brand new idea.

As she writes on her blog: “That unfortunate experience gave me not only the chance to reduce the high-risk operations of my business; but also the Captain’s hat to lead the way of a new and wonderful era.” Don’t think of problems or failures as a sign that you should be discouraged. Instead, use them as learning and motivational tools to continue going at it. As they say, it’s just a matter of perspective—and having a positive perspective or outlook is what matters here.

Continue to Believe in Yourself

Try not to let a failure debilitate your confidence or make you limit your belief in your ideas or what you’re capable of. Success doesn’t come easily and if you open up a conversation with other brilliant businesswomen, it’s likely they’ll have their own stories of failure, too. They’ll also surely mention how these stumbles made their drive to succeed stronger eventually, and made success even sweeter.

Consider joining a networking or business/professional group either online or face to face. This will put you in touch with plenty of admirable women who will give you valuable advice, especially in regards to maintaining confidence and the drive to move forward despite encountering business or career setbacks.

Use Your Mistakes as a Springboard

As painful as it may be, try to assess to what led to the failure you just experienced. Write down any points you feel contributed to what happened and then address them: what would you do differently next time? You may even need to speak to your boss or mentor and ask them to be honest about how they feel you could have avoided the situation. You could also post on a careers forum to see what other businesswomen’s opinions of what you did wrong are and how they would have navigated the issues.

Australian businesswoman Leanne Faulkner runs a small consultancy firm called Fortitude at Work in which she helps small business owners navigate the pitfalls of entrepreneurship. She sold her first company after suffering a breakdown because of the pressures of running a business.

“I think failure has been my greatest success,” Faulkner told the Sydney Morning Herald. “If I hadn’t really had that breakdown, which my husband calls a breakthrough, I wouldn’t be advocating for mental health for small business owners”.

Be Better Prepared

Once you have a good sense of how you would catapult yourself over the obstacles you faced last time around, think about how you can prepare yourself this time around. Was the failure because of poor people management? Consider professional development with a focus on people management and ask your employer to support you by way of funding or at least attending during working hours. Was it that your own business ran out of cash? Research different ways of gaining funding and attracting clients and set about making them a reality.

While business or career failure is often seen as a negative event, it also allows you to take a look at things in a different, more productive perspective. This gives you the necessary insights that will help you improve yourself and avoid the same failure in the future. Experience is the best teacher, after all.

Reset Your Goals if Needed

Now that you’re ready to get going again, it’s a good time to reflect and determine if your goals are the same as they were before you encountered failure. Just make sure any aims you’re dropping or tweaking are because of a more realistic approach or a genuine change of heart rather than because of a dent in your confidence.

Again, asking for second opinions can be vital for success, especially after experiencing failure. As such, consider seeking advice from fellow career or businesswomen. At Behind Closed Doors, we believe mentorship is and should never be underrated and use it, together with networking and other resources, to help women achieve true professional development in their own careers and fields.


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