Years before I met her, a student of mine got an offer for a promotion. It would mean more status and more hours. Her boss said money was tight, so he could only offer her $5,000 more. She accepted. Months later, exhausted, she had a conversation with several peers. "We were surprised you took the offer," they said. "Everyone knows you're much better than the guy you replaced, and he and we are making $60,000 more than you."
As a negotiation professor, that story makes me particularly angry. I don't want anyone to be so unjustly mistreated. Yet I know many are -- especially women.
Studies find women often don't ask for more compensation, and when they do, they often get less than men do. Why don't they ask for more? They realize they pay a social cost for asking -- a cost men don't pay. A man demanding more is ambitious. A woman? Too aggressive. Research shows people like women less when women strongly ask for more for themselves; people feel neutral or positive about men doing so.
Sheryl Sandberg knows these dynamics well. In her widely discussed new book, Lean In, she argues women have allowed gender bias to stop them from advancing as they should. She wants women to negotiate more ambitiously, even if they risk being disliked for it.
As the father of two future women, I share her longing for women's success, and since I've taught thousands of women (and men) to negotiate, I know they can develop skills it takes to achieve that success. How? Here are some additional ways women can (and often do) negotiate well for themselves, with less risk.
1. Be Hard on the Problem, Soft on the Person. Sandberg notes women face particularly strong pressure to be nice -- pressure that seems to force them to give in. But they don't have to give in. As skilled negotiators know, it's possible to be assertive without coming across as irritatingly aggressive. That is, there are ways to win warmly.
Studies find that mediocre negotiators -- regardless of gender -- tend to use 'irritators' far more than skilled negotiators do. Irritators are self-serving, unpersuasive phrases: "It's a reasonable offer;" "I deserve more;" "that's inadequate." In contrast, skilled negotiators intentionally reframe in face-saving, respectful ways: "I know we both want to be fair, so I did some learning about what similar firms do, and I thought I'd share what I found." "I'm sure we'll find something we're both happy with. We're not there yet, but I'm not discouraged, and I have some ideas that may help us."
Reframing lets negotiators be hard on the problem, soft on the person, allowing women -- and men -- to 'lean in' without pressuring. Not only can reframing help the negotiator who uses it, it can help everyone do better -- often enhancing the relationship in the process.
But really -- ambitious results and better relationships? Who can achieve that? Women can. A remarkable study of women legislators found they tend to be more effective than male counterparts; they bring back more money to their districts, and earn higher peer ratings and win re-election by higher margins. True, these findings may have a selection bias - sadly, few women serve as elected leaders. But it suggests it's true you can be firm and kind.
2. Prepare Skillfully For Effective Negotiating. Women legislators succeed in part because they work harder. A symptom of an unfair system? Quite possibly. But it's also a sign of what it takes to negotiate well. The word 'negotiate' comes from the Latin meaning 'not leisure,' and skilled negotiators learn that to succeed, they need to prepare well, as women legislators seem to do. One powerful technique: learn beforehand about your counterpart's needs, research credible benchmarks, and brainstorm creative options that serve you both well. Reframing's much easier with this groundwork.
3. Roleplay to Self-Advocate Better. But how to cope with the difficulty women feel with self-advocacy? First, it helps to advocate with other women in mind, as Sandberg suggests -- or on behalf of family or charity. Roleplaying beforehand can help a negotiator practice getting into that frame of mind; it can also help her anticipate emotional traps, get feedback safely, and practice reframing effectively. Try roleplaying, debriefing, roleplaying again, and so on.
It may be wise for women to get comfortable being less liked. It may also help to know there are several ways to limit the social cost of asking, and often finesse it. By getting ready to be hard on the problem, soft on the person, women can warmly win their well-deserved place at the table.