Here are two depressing but important facts for you:
- If you're a woman and you hate negotiating, you're not crazy -- research shows that women really are penalized for standing up for themselves and demanding more.
- You're also really not alone -- even Hollywood A-lister Jennifer Lawrence recently confessed that she's left wads of money on the table because she hates being labeled 'demanding' for negotiating.
Bias against women taking a tough line in negotiations is real and widespread, in other words, and it makes life tricky for women who want to get what they're worth. So what are you going to do about it?
Bemoaning that this is unfair and simply annoying is justified, but it doesn't offer much practical guidance. Insisting the world take you as you are and being uncompromising in your negotiating style (and if you're the bada** type that can stomach that, three cheers for you) is inspiring and righteous, but could also create professional roadblocks and certainly doesn't suit everyone.
The answer for many women, suggest a host of practically minded experts, is to walk a middle ground, understanding the stereotypes you're facing and slightly modifying your behavior to counter them. Lots of this sort of advice has been shared lately in light of Lawrence's brave essay on the subject. Here's a roundup of some of the best from researchers, subject area experts, and a panel discussion held on the subject at Wharton.
1. Mind your body language.
People judge our power and authority within seconds of seeing you and without you needing to say a thing. It's all down to your body language, a fact women negotiators can use to their advantage, according to work done by Stanford's Larissa Tiedens and Emory's Melissa Williams that was highlighted on Insights by Stanford Business.
"Standing tall and using a loud voice during a meeting can express authority, but it's subtle enough not to be resented," notes the write-up. "Sitting with an arm draped over a chair, and an ankle resting on a knee, makes a person look larger and more dominant--but not threatening."
2. Don't be afraid to listen.
The stereotype of the successful negotiator may be all bluster and domination, but as Wharton lecturer and panel moderator Rachel Krol noted, that's not backed up by research. The most effective salespeople, for instance, have been shown to only talk about 30 percent of the time -- the rest is spent listening.
Jennifer Potenta, a director in MetLife's Corporate Private Placements group, who participated in the panel, agreed that you shouldn't be worried if your voice isn't dominating the conversation. "Listening is really important because sometimes you think you know what the other party wants, but when you listen, you really hear what they want. That's where you get to a position, a resolution, that works for both sides," she said, adding, "it's something that I do better than my male counterparts."
Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations, puts a slightly different spin on this tip. "One of the most important tactics to an effective negotiation is learning to become comfortable with occasional bouts of awkward silence," writes Elizabeth Segran in Fast Company summing up her advice.
Women can hold themselves back by thinking they somehow lack the knack of negotiating. Hogwash, say the experts. Negotiating is a skill anyone can learn, not a talent you're either born with or lack. You just need to practice.
"It makes me nuts when I hear someone like a female Wharton MBA say they are not good at negotiation or public speaking. Well, you don't have to really be that good; you just have to do it," commented Wharton panel participant Beth Ann Day, managing director and chief talent officer at AllianceBernstein. "I really believe that to become a better negotiator, it takes practice," agreed Fatimah Gilliam, founder and CEO of The Azara Group.
Get started with small, everyday interactions like returning a purchase after the 30-day window has passed or scoring an upgrade on a flight or hotel room.
4. Negotiate on behalf of someone else.
The bias that says women should always be caring and nurturing is super annoying, but sadly that doesn't mean it isn't still a factor in how women are received when they negotiate. At least this is one stereotype you can use to your advantage if you choose.
"Gilliam cited research showing that when women negotiate on behalf of someone else, they sometimes outperform men, whereas when negotiating for themselves, they don't perform as well," says the Knowledge@Wharton write-up of the panel discussion. She offered this mental trick to help women use this reality to their advantage: "Change your perspective ... think beyond yourself. You're negotiating for your family. You're negotiating, if it's compensation, so that you can have more money to take care of your parents when they're old, right?"
Meanwhile over on Insights by Stanford Business Tiedens and Williams suggest another way to employ this wisdom. "Fighting back against budgets cuts to the department or business unit that one leads may be an ideal opportunity for both male and female leaders to deploy their strongest persuasive weapons without fear of social costs," they write.
5. Build long-term relationships.
Women are expected to be warm, but you want to get every penny you're worth. How do you reconcile those two things? One idea is to ensure you build (warm) long-term relationships with the people with which you do business.
Jennifer Pereira, a principal in direct private equity at CPP Investment Board, made this point while speaking on the Wharton panel. "You don't always know when someone's going to pop back into your life. It really is so important to negotiate with integrity and build personal relationships as you go," she noted.
"The high-level women I talk to very consistently say they spend a lot more time than their male colleagues did getting to know people, getting to know about their personal lives," law professor Joan C. Williams tells Fortune, seconding the idea.