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How to Negotiate to Get More Out of Your Career

Women especially need to be ready to ask for what they want on the job.

Women don't negotiate as often, or as successfully, as men do—and their bank accounts and careers suffer for it.

Asking for more not only gets you more, but it also expands and improves people's perception of you. It will teach people that you expect respect and fair treatment.

Men generally learn how to negotiate simply by seeing other men doing it. It's natural. It's accepted. Most women have never learned to negotiate, either explicitly or by the everyday osmosis of female role models. So when we first start doing it, it's going to be hard and uncomfortable, and we're going to do it wrong.

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How do we learn how to negotiate, then? Be intentional about it. Find negotiation workshops or coaches. Practice is essential. Read articles. Read books. But beware: Communication advice for men often won't work for women.

When I search my local library's catalog for books about "negotiation," I get 149 hits. Of the first 50, you know how many were written by women? Four. If you think about the difference between "assertive" men and "aggressive" women, you instantly know that the same communication style is interpreted differently depending on gender.

One good read is Ask For It: How Women Can Use Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, which is written not only by a woman, but also for women. Most of the following advice comes from or is inspired by this book.

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The bottom line is: The system rewards people who ask. So learn how to ask.

What to Negotiate

When we think of negotiation in the workplace, we usually think of money. Sometimes that's a possibility; sometimes it's not. And sometimes it's not truly what you want; it's simply an easy proxy for your real interests. What else might improve your job satisfaction?

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  • More vacation
  • Training or education
  • Opportunities to expand your reach
  • Connections
  • Promotion
  • New title

How to Negotiate

BEFORE THE NEGOTIATION: PREPARE PREPARE PREPARE

Step 1: Educate yourself.

Start easy: Find out what your job gets paid in other companies using sites such as PayScale, Comparably and Ackwire (which is particularly useful for my clients in the tech industry because it provides "anonymous startup salaries, stock options and equity" data).

Also, you so need a network—of women and men in your company, in your profession and throughout your industry. You need to know all those things that can't easily be found on the internet: what other people in your company are paid, what opportunities are available and who makes the important decisions at your company.

Step 2: Write down a plan.

Figure out what you actually want and what you're going to ask for. Ask For It talks about four numbers, from worst to best:

  1. The Offer
  2. Your Reservation Value: You're unwilling to accept anything below this.
  3. Your Target: This is how much you really want.
  4. Your Ask: This is what you initially ask for. Even if you think it may be out of reach, ask for a bit more than your target number—perhaps closer to the top of the appropriate salary range you identified. Keep the "ask" reasonable, even if high, so you maintain credibility in the negotiation. You, or your boss, can always go lower from there.
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The book Perfecting Your Pitch teaches you how to use (and practice with!) scripts to get through any difficult conversation, like say, salary negotiations. Check it out; it might help you phrase your "ask" more effectively.

Step 3: Practice, practice, practice.

Especially if you're not quick on your feet, as I'm not, practicing what you're going to say during your negotiation is essential. Seriously.

You need to feel silly pretending your spouse or friend is your boss and you're asking for a raise. You need to practice reacting to what they say. Do not go into your next negotiation without having walked through it beforehand.

DURING THE NEGOTIATION: BREATHE DEEPLY AND STAY FOCUSED

If you've prepared and practiced, hopefully you'll feel somewhat confident as you're entering the negotiation space. Still, jitters are inevitable. Try to:

  • Get your emotions under control before entering the room. Listen to music. Focus on your breath.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Understand the other person's situation and priorities.
  • Avoid gamesmanship. Don't lie or exaggerate.
  • Look for the "win-win." Maybe your boss can give you something you value without sacrifice, and in return you can easily give her something that she values.
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But really, if nothing else, just ask.

Special Rules for Women

Let's be pragmatic. We all know there are cultural habits and expectations that are unfair for women. You are not going to change those in your next negotiation. You can, however, change your own personal situation. And then perhaps use your new vaunted position to make the playing field a little more fair, help-a-sister-out style.

Ask For It encourages you to "soften" your style, which will allow you to remain tough on the actual issues. You should practice being "relentlessly pleasant." The idea reminds me of the Steel Magnolia. When I lived in Virginia, I ran into a lot of Steel Magnolias: women who smiled a lot, were genuinely nice, caring people… and would grind you into dust if you crossed them. And it was so hard to fault them because they were so nice.

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Other important tips for women:

  • Don't fill every silence.
  • Don't get sidetracked.
  • Take a break (for the bathroom, say) if you feel rushed or pressured. This is my favorite tip. I tend to get flustered under pressure and do anything to simply end the discomfort.
  • Don't accept too quickly!

It's really hard to undo decades of teachings that women shouldn't advocate for themselves. Might we able to "trick" ourselves into doing so? Try these out:

  • Pretend you're bargaining on someone else's behalf (your daughter, a friend). It's so much easier to be strong on someone else's behalf.
  • Realize that you definitely are negotiating on behalf of your entire family.
  • Think about the fact that collaborative negotiation (the win-win type) will help the other person, too. It is not selfish.

Ultimately, this skill will bring you more career satisfaction and more financial success. Learning how to negotiate well is not a opportunity we can afford to ignore.

Meg Bartelt, MSFP, is the President of Flow Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only virtual firm that provides financial guidance to women in tech. She is a member of the XY Planning Network.

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About the Author

Meg Bartelt, MSFP, CFP®

President, Flow Financial Planning, LLC

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