Negotiation Is a Conversation You Don’t Have To Avoid

Research shows women actually ask for raises and promotions at the same rate as men, they just don’t get them as often and are less likely to push back beyond an initial “no.” That’s where the ability — and willingness — to negotiate effectively comes to the fore.
 
Negotiation skills are critical to all aspects of life, from self-advocacy in your job to standing up for your team, interacting with a customer, making the case for important ideas, creating agreements with your kids or even returning a defective product to a store. The long-term impact of not negotiating makes it a no-win strategy so it’s critical to overcome any hesitation you have to negotiating, and to make sure you know how to do it effectively.
 
Let’s talk about it
The negotiation process can sometimes feel uncomfortable for women because its image as a hard-scrabble fight conflicts with strong societal messages about women being kind, pleasant, collaborative and easy to get along with. While, of course, women are under no obligation to be pleasant all the time, it can help pave the road to effective negotiation if you think of it first and foremost as a conversation.
 
Negotiation is not synonymous with combat, according to Fotini Iconomopoulos, an expert on communication and persuasion and author of Say Less, Get More: Unconventional Negotiation Techniques To Get What You Want. “All negotiation is, is a simple conversation. It’s two people trying to reach an agreement,” she says. Iconomopoulos will be a breakout session speaker at the 2023 WFF Leadership Conference Limitless You in person in Dallas and live virtually March 12-14, 2023.
 
Negotiation can actually be based on a diplomatic and rational conversation; in fact, the most effective negotiations are just that.  
 
Take a pause
One technique Iconomopoulos recommends is developing a personal method that enables you to pause within a negotiation to get emotions in check and bring your thinking brain back on line. If there’s a moment where the other person becomes combative or disrespectful, or even if you can just feel the triggering of your fight, flight or freeze response, an intentional mental pause can quiet your nervous system and bring your cognitive skills back to the table. That will enable you to make more intentional and rational choices about what you say and how you say it.
 
What works as a pause is individualized. For some people, a few deep breaths will work wonders and it’s a great starting point for most people. You might have a go-to mental image you can call up that will help you relax. You could even simply lightly touch your forehead to remind yourself that you want to access your best cognitive processes in this moment.
 
Taking a brief mental pause also allows you to choose your language carefully and avoid saying something you might regret. A longer pause can also be used strategically to provide a bit of silence where the other person is likely to feel obligated to fill in the blank space. This also gives you more time to think and gain a better sense of their perspective. Often, the more someone keeps talking, the more they talk themselves into further agreement with you.
 
Another reason to pause and lower the temperature on your emotions is that anxiety tends to narrow your thinking rather than expand it, according to Professor of Organizational Behavior at Brandeis University, Andy Molinsky, Ph.D. “That makes it hard to be creative in our negotiation strategy and difficult to have a positive outlook on the negotiation itself, which research has shown to be important for effectively handling these situations,” he writes in Harvard Business Review.
 
Sweat the non-verbals
Because non-verbal communication says at least as much as your words, paying attention to your physical presence is also important. Iconomopoulos suggests striking a “power pose,” such as those advocated by psychologist Amy Cuddy, Ph.D., in her popular TED Talk. Although you are not obligated to use the “Wonder Woman” stance, positioning yourself in a way that helps you feel more confident, alert and at ease can put you in a better frame of mind to negotiate assertively and fairly.
 
While you don’t want to be ruled by your emotions during negotiations, a well-calibrated reaction (used judiciously) can be another tool to help you send a message without saying a word. An immediate non-verbal response can let the other party know that what they’ve just said is not acceptable and can prompt them to rethink their offer before you even counter.  
 
Researchers from the University of Toronto and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology found that a subtle flinch in response to an unacceptable opening offer could put negotiators in a more powerful bargaining position. The key was not to overdo it and not to be disingenuous about your reaction. Taken too far, the flinch can be seen as inappropriate and actually decrease your effectiveness.
 
While you may still not relish the idea of negotiation, the more you can replace outmoded ideas of fist banging and heated battle with a reasoned conversation, the more willing you may be to engage. One of the first places to start the conversation may actually be with yourself —exploring what holds you back from making your needs and opinions known, the value of stepping outside your comfort zone and the upside of bringing a positive outlook to your next negotiation conversation.
 

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