Whether negotiating at the office or at home, gender matters. It matters that during a negotiation women are seen as weaker for wanting to preserve relationships and men are seen as stronger for wanting to win at all costs. No matter that American business-people have studied “win-win” negotiation theory for more than 20 years now; negotiation language is still laced with words that imply that competitive negotiations are the standard operating procedure, especially in the business world.
Consider this though: News sources frequently report that businesses are partnering or creating alliances to grow and gain market strength. Businesses are quickly learning that collaboration, in the form of partnerships and alliances, wins more business today than good old fashioned competition. It is at this intersection–between competitive and collaborative negotiation models–that women can find a tremendous advantage. Because women are to some extent socialized to cooperate and collaborate, women can use those abilities to negotiate truly collaborative agreements.*
The following are 10 tips to help women leverage their talents to negotiate a truly collaborative outcome. The first three tips are particularly important, because women tend to have an ability to access these skills.
- Understand how a negotiation will impact a relationship. This applies to interdepartmental negotiations and to external business-to-business negotiations. Many business relationships have been needlessly damaged when hardball (bluffing, storming out of the room etc.) negotiation tactics are used.
- Bring a collaborative approach to problem-solving and brainstorming during a negotiation. A collaborative approach means looking for solutions that stress the “we” rather than “you versus me.” Use words and phrases that stress the importance of working together to find a solution.
- When appropriate, share information. There are certainly times when sharing information would not be advantageous; however, there are times when sharing information will move the negotiations along. For example, if you, as team leader, are negotiating with team members about project deadlines, sharing information about the time constraints that you face will be to your advantage.
- Take time to prepare for a negotiation. This is the single most important factor in reaching a mutually beneficial outcome. Before the negotiation session have a firm grasp of issues on the agenda, business and personal goals, and ideas of how it might serve the other person to help you meet your goals.
- Ask non-judgmental questions. Non-judgmental questions are used to clarify facts, figures or priorities, and they establish a problem-solving atmosphere discussed in point number two. For example, if you and a client are struggling with a budget issue, asking for the client’s priorities and asking the client how he or she sees you accomplishing your tasks within budget constraints will open up the conversation into a brainstorming session.
Here are some sample non-judgmental questions:
- Could you tell me more about …?
- How do you see us accomplishing …?
- Could you please clarify what that means to you?
- Check emotional reactions to hardball negotiation tactics. It is only natural to want to react to a seemingly ridiculous request, bullying behavior, or a personal attack. Getting angry or defensive will simply escalate the negative emotional content during the negotiation. When faced with negative emotional behaviors by the other party, take a step back, and if need be, take a time-out to collect your thoughts.
- Be honest. It is critical to mean what you say, especially if you say, “No.” Bluffing and posturing are poor tactics that will often lead to an unsatisfactory result for you and for the other party.
- Know what is motivating you or your company to negotiate. In other words, what do you hope to accomplish at the end of the day? Motivations are often referred to as interests, hence the term interest based bargaining. Interests, both yours and the other person’s, are always positive. Interests or motivations come from the speaker’s perspective, so making money and saving money are both positive interests even though they appear to conflict during a negotiation. Even seemingly negative motivations, like “getting even,” come from a positive interest, such as gaining a sense of fairness or justice.
- Be willing to make the first offer. Research shows that the party that makes the opening offer gets better results. Making the first offer establishes your expectations for the negotiation and anchors the conversation, meaning everyone’s attention is focused solely on that opening offer.
- Honor your agreements. If you make an agreement—keep it. In situations where you may be willing to consider something, but are unwilling for whatever reason to commit, use “if-then” statements. For instance, try this: If you (other person) could do XX for me, I would be willing to consider agreeing to YY.
These 10 tips are the starting point for truly a “win-win”, interest based negotiation style, a style that draws on women’s collaborative skill set. Leverage those skills to create relationships that foster real partnerships and alliances, and as a result of creating sustainable relationships, mutually beneficial agreements will follow.