A Negotiation Strategy for Women Only

women negotiate

Women don’t negotiate as much as men do.

Study after study shows women are less likely to push for a better salary offer. The common explanations: women lack confidence and women are socialized not to speak up. Those may be part of the problem, but there is more to it.

What if the reason is that women are correctly assessing that asking for more might actually harm them?

Women who negotiate often suffer negative consequences, a phenomenon that researchers call “social cost.” In studies in which people rated their impressions of employees who negotiate and those who don’t, and then determine who they would most wanted to work with, researchers found that people were less inclined to work with someone who has negotiated. The effect was greater for women than men, sometimes significantly so.

According to the paper, “Male evaluators penalized female candidates more than male candidates for initiating negotiations; female evaluators penalized all candidates for initiating negotiations. Perceptions of niceness and demandingness explained resistance to female negotiators.”

Interestingly, women who were negotiating for other people were evaluated more favorably than those who are advocating for themselves.

A Negotiating Strategy for Women Only

So what is the solution? One of the researchers, Hannah Riley Bowles of Harvard’s Kennedy School, advises in that women use a “relational account” —that is, an “I and We” strategy. The idea is to approach negotiations by asking for what you want while also showing the person on the other side of the table that you are also taking their perspective. Beyond the classic win-win, the strategy is not just about both sides winning, but winning together.

The key is explaining to your negotiating counterpart why — from his point-of-view — it’s legitimate for you to be negotiating. Sheryl Sandburg, for example, has written that in her negotiations with Facebook, she legitimized her stance by reminding them that being a good negotiator would be necessary to succeeding in the role they wanted her to fill. “Show you care about your relationship,” writes Bowles. Prepare for your negotiations by scripting the conversation to highlight the importance of your relationship—how much you value it—with the person across the table.

When a woman’s reasons for negotiating were perceived as legitimate, the strategy worked to lessen negative repercussions. The same was true when she communicated concern for organizational relationships. Using that formula “helped women both get what they wanted and make the impression that they wanted to make,” writes Bowles.

Interestingly, negotiating using an outside job offer was not as successful; perhaps because it defeated the “we” aspect of the strategy that emphasizes an ongoing relationship. It’s hard to convince someone to give you a raise when you have one foot out the door.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.