We have all heard the expression ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’. To have a successful career asking for it, whether that it is a raise, a promotion or a project, is a skill that we all need to master.
But what if you don’t have the confidence to “ask” in the first place? What happens if you don’t step up and kick off the negotiation process? What then? Well, according to a top US economist that is an issue for many women. They don’t ask and she argues their careers suffer because of it.
Linda Babcock is a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University in the US. With her co author Sara Laschever, she has written a number of books about women and negotiation. “Ask for it: How women can get what they really want – at work and at home” and “Women Don’t Ask: the high cost of Avoiding Negotiation and positive strategies for change”
Babcock argues that women are crucially disadvantaged when comes to crucial negotiation skills.
“Our society teaches women not to negotiate. We get these messages from the time that they are born. We tell girls to wait for things to be offered and not to rock the boat. We teach boys to go out there and be aggressive, to go after what they want.”
Babcock and Laschever claim their research shows that women (in general) do not ask as often, don’t ask for as much, and settle for less. Women expect life to be fair, are more likely to be satisfied with what they have, and expect others to notice and reward their accomplishments.
Men are willing to ask for what they want and think they deserve, and will push harder to get it. Men tend to treat negotiations as a competition, where they are trying to get the biggest piece of the pie for themselves.
Women tend to have a more collaborative approach, sharing information to find out what each side really wants, and then finding ways to enlarge the pie so each can get what they need.
In one study looking at students graduating with master’s degrees they found that only 7 percent of the women had negotiated their first job offers, while 57 percent—or eight times as many—of the men asked for more than they were offered. Babcock and her co-author Sue Laschever calculated that not negotiating at this critical juncture would cost the women at least $1,000,000 by the time they retire. And these are the lost earnings from only one negotiation. Makes you think does n’t it?
Not convinced? Well these figures from the CSO make interesting reading. The most recent figures from the Central Statistics office show that woman on average earn around two thirds of men’s income. The latest figures for 2006 reveal that the average industrial wage for a man is €624.45 but for a woman is it €451.12, a difference of over €150.00. To be fair, there are other factors at play which also explain the differences in pay but Babcock and Laschever’s assertions are certainly part of the picture.
And it is something that has been spotted by women themselves. The recently launched Dublin Business Women’s Skillsnet (DBWS) has been set up to provide pioneering training for women. It aim is to develop and deliver tailored training programmes for businesswomen to help build their personal confidence, develop their business skill base and support them in making their businesses succeed.
Mairead Cirillo is the chair of the steering group of DBWS. She spoke to women about the type of training they wanted and the need to improve and enhance negotiation skills is something that Irish businesswomen recognised.
“Women identified negotiation as one of the key skills that they wanted more training in” she told WorkWise.
When she started out in business she knew it was a skill she needed to learn. She has found that men and women approach negotiation in very different ways. She describes women as more direct; they give their bottom line early and try to stick to it whereas men never accept a bottom line as final and will keep trying to chip away at it.
“To me, as a woman, negotiation is a discussion and both sides should walk away feeling like they have got something from it. Too often I have seen the male approach to negotiation where there has to be a winner and a loser”
Kevin O Connor set up and runs Insight Negotiations. He trains people in the art of negotiation and believes that training can rebalance the differences between how the sexes operate.
He cites the example of the construction industry which is generally considered to be predominantly male. He has trained many women in the construction industry who had been having problems negotiating a good deal. With the right input many do step up, look for and get favorable rates.
He believes that the secret of being a good negotiator is doing your homework and this is where women often outmaneuver their male counterparts.
“I feel having had negotiating training women are able to approach negotiating situations with more confidence now. In fact many put together a game plan about how they are going to approach negotiations. This is a great move as in essence they are controlling the negotiations, particularly when they are negotiating with someone who has little to no negotiating training. I tend to find men are less inclined to put a negotiating plan together and all the steering power of the meeting goes to the planner”
Like many thing in business negotiation is a skill that can be taught, learned and mastered. Kevin firmly believes anybody who wants to improve their negotiation skills can do so.
“When people can see the potential effective negotiating has they naturally want to practice their negotiating skills – whether in work or in their personal life. The practice only makes you a stronger, more effective negotiator. Whether you want a better deal for that hotel break away or to negotiate better terms and conditions with your suppliers, knowing what to say at the right time makes all the difference”
And Linda Babcock would agree. The reticence of some women towards negotiation is not genetic. It is a learned behavior that can be unlearned and in many cases quite easily. Linda suggests four strategies to improve your negotiation skills.
1. Don’t assume that you’re stuck with the status quo
Begin thinking about the world as a more negotiable place. Can you get a better price on that Armani suit you’ve had your eye on? Can you ask your boss to let you join a team doing work you want to do? Can you ask to switch to a quieter office or to hand off responsibilities that feel beneath your level of experience? At home, can you ask your partner to leave work early to pick up the kids one day a week so that you can work late that day? Can you ask him (or her) to do the dishes every night since you do all the grocery shopping? Not all of these changes are possible, but some of them probably are. Try identifying something you want, maybe something small to start, and find a way to ask for it. You may not get all you ask for, but you’ll certainly get more than if you hadn’t asked.
2. Gather information.
If you are planning to negotiate for a pay rise then start by finding out where you stand. Check out the salary surveys on WorkWise for example. Use your social and professional networks. Rather than asking people how much they earn (which may feel awkward), try asking what they think someone in your position should earn. But be sure to ask men as well as women. Since women typically make only 76 percent of what men make, if you talk only to women, you’ll probably get inaccurately low estimates. Once you’ve established the range of salaries paid to people like you, you can set a realistic goal if you decide to ask for more.
3. Role-play in advance.
Practice with a friend or colleague to anticipate roadblocks and plan how to get past them. Imagine counteroffers that would stop you in your tracks. Imagine the worst thing the other person could do or say. Then devise responses that will enable you to remain calm and focused such as “How close can you come to my figure then?” or “let’s talk about a compromise that would make us both happy.” Practice going “four rounds” with the opposing negotiator rather than conceding as soon as he or she reacts negatively to your initial request. Set a high target and remember to focus on your goal rather than on the least you’ll accept. This type of “rehearsal” can reduce your anxiety about the negotiation and help you feel more control over the process. It usually produces better results, too.
4. Pay attention to how you ask.
If you ask for what you want in a way that seems overly direct, “pushy,” or demanding, this behavior from a woman may antagonize others and make them resist giving you what you want. This is sad and silly, but it’s a fact of life today: Women need to “manage” the impressions they create if they don’t want to be stonewalled. You can do this by using “friendly” body language (such as smiling and making warm eye contact) and by communicating your wish to find a solution that works for everyone. This approach allows you to set high targets for the negotiation without seeming threatening. It also has a silver lining: Many women feel more comfortable with a collaborative approach, and this type of “win/win” attitude has been shown to produce better results for everyone involved. Both sides come away happier.
Linda Babcock is a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University’s H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management. Sara Laschever is a writer whose work has been published by the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and other publications. For more information on them and their books go to www.askforit.org
Dublin Business women’s Skillnet is offering a negotiation skills course. Find out more via their website www.dbws.ie
Kevin O Connor offers workshops and training in negotiation. Find out more on www.insight-negotiations.com