Earlier this month, during a workshop at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's International Women's Day Forum led by negotiation coach Stephanie Chow, a group of about 100 women were asked if they liked to negotiate. Not a single hand went up. But all of the women raised their hands in response to a follow-up question: Does negotiation make you uncomfortable?
Daniella Kahane, executive director of Women in Negotiation Summit, a for-profit organization that coaches women on negotiation techniques, says her clients and workshop attendees often worry about appearing "aggressive" or "entitled." Research shows those fears are founded: Women are more likely than their male peers to be penalized for negotiating salaries.
It's partially because of this imbalance that Equal Pay Day is observed every year. Women on average earn 81.6 cents for every dollar that men earn. Equal Pay Day marks how many extra days from January 1 that a woman has to work in order to make the same amount as her male peers. This year, that day is today, March 31.
Of course, closing the wage gap comes down to more than negotiation--there are many factors contributing to the wage gap that are beyond any one person or group's control. But it's important to focus on what you can control says Kahane, and that includes negotiation skills.
Reframe "negotiating" as something you are good at or do often.
The first step to improving your feelings around negotiation, Kahane says, is to view it as something you do every day--because you do. We're constantly making little compromises with ourselves and the people in our lives--like promising yourself you'll do the dishes in exchange for watching one more episode of Tiger King, or promising your spouse that you'll help them proofread a memo for work (after one more episode of Tiger King). Negotiation, Kahane says, "really is any form of communication where the stakes are relevant to you." Recognizing that negotiation is a common act can make it less daunting.
Kahane recommends identifying your personal superpower--be it strong emotional intelligence or excellent communication skills--and then consciously applying it to the negotiations you engage in all day long. To build that negotiating muscle even more, consider doing exercises like the Two-Dollar Game, which Kahane uses at her workshops.
Rewrite inner narratives.
Negotiation is a more difficult topic for women than men, according to Kahane, because negotiation isn't just about salaries and benefits packages. Negotiation is "deeply rooted in a person's self-worth and identity," she says.
As an example, Kahane points to research that shows that women often don't apply for promotions unless they have 100 percent of the role's qualifications, while men tend to apply when they're only 60 percent qualified. Research also shows that women are less likely to negotiate unless it's specifically mentioned they can--and that they feel pressure to accept a job offer right away. Kahane recommends reflecting on your patterns of self-talk and how they contribute to your idea of what you're worth. Rework both to help you advocate for yourself more effectively. In other words, confidence is key.
Do your homework.
Thoroughly research what you're worth, and come to the negotiation with mental (or written) bullet points of your goals. "Don't let anyone derail you," Kahane advises. You also need to figure out what's known by negotiation experts as your BATNA--Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement--which helps dictate the lowest figure you're willing to negotiate.
Another technique, called "anchoring," helps to quickly focus the conversation on your desired figure. Humans tend to fixate on the first number they're exposed to, and this behavioral bias can be used to a negotiator's advantage. In practice, you should throw out the highest number possible and use that number as the starting point, or "anchor." Your opponent will be more likely to agree to the figure you actually want to walk away with, as it will look smaller when compared with the anchor.
Listen more than you speak.
Finally, Kahane says active listening is one of the best ways to get what you want out of a conversation. Research shows the best salespeople listen more than they talk.
You might face backlash for negotiating. But you also could get better terms on your investment, flexible hours for child care or senior care needs, or a million additional dollars over your lifetime. But it takes practice! To everyone who comes to her negotiation workshops and thinks, "I'm really bad at this," Kahane says, "You're not a great negotiator--yet."