8 common missteps women face in negotiations

More than 80 percent of CEOs and other executives leave money on the table when negotiating. Women have an even greater challenge: Research indicates a backlash effect causes them to hold back. 

These findings come from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, where several professors have closely studied the dynamics women leaders face at the negotiation table. 

Research shows that male evaluators penalize female candidates more than male candidates for starting a negotiation. Leigh Thompson, PhD, J. Jay Gerber professor of dispute resolution & organizations at Kellogg, suggests this backlash effect possibly stems from broader gender stereotypes. When men are seen as having agency to pursue their own professional goals while maintaining professional relationships. Women, on the other hand, often face a perceived trade-off between the two and don't have the same luxury of doing both.  

Here are eight common missteps women should avoid in these high-stakes conversations: 

1. Overlooking a negotiation opportunity. Many negotiations unfold in an ambiguous, informal way without much notice. It's not as though you'll receive a calendar invitation for a negotiation with your board next Thursday at 2. Kellogg thought leaders urge women to take advantage of these less clear-cut moments. "Most negotiations are not as highly scripted as buying a house, buying a car or meeting to discuss my salary," Dr. Thompson says. "They are about other things in my life that can have a big impact on my subjective well-being."

2. Asking for permission to negotiate. Women should initiate negotiation more often. "One of my rules is never ask, 'Is this negotiable?' because that's a yes or no question,” says Dr. Thompson. "It's easy for people to say, 'No, it's not. Next question.'"

3. Going to bat harder for your team or friend than yourself. Women behave more like the prototypical man when negotiating on behalf of someone else, says Dr. Thompson. "I tell women that even if they have to imagine negotiating on behalf of their team, their retired self or a future child, that is going to help."

4. Making a feeble offer. No feeble offers! Make firm offers that are clear and specific, says Vicki Medvec, PhD, Adeline Barry Davee professor of management and organizations at Kellogg. "It's like going into the department store, and you see a sweater that has a snag. If you go up to the counter and say, 'Can you take something off?' you're not going to end up with nearly as much as if you go to the counter and say, 'Can I have this for 50 percent off since it has this snag?'"

5. Making an unreasonable offer. This can strain your relationship with the negotiator, and rare is the negotiation where the relationship doesn’t matter. "We want to make sure that we make asks that are very bold, but not ridiculous," says Dr. Medvec. “We want to make sure we are building rationale for the offer." 

6. Going off the cuff. Without a script, you'll still talk of course — just about what the other party wants and needs. Prepare to have the conversation you want to have. 

7. Making a first offer with no room to concede. You want to concede. ”When you concede, the other side will feel like they're winning. They'll be more satisfied, and you look more flexible and cooperative,” says Dr. Medvec.

8. Setting negotiation terms that don't communicate anything about your differentiators, or the things that make you a better choice than a competitor, according to Dr. Medvec. "I always say that if you're not differentiating, you're commoditizing. I'll ask people what they want to accomplish in a negotiation, and they'll talk about maximizing price or value, building a relationship or getting more business. But differentiating your product or service is critical to achieving those objectives. It's the lost piece."

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