By Lee E. Miller
Davia Temin, President of Temin & Co. and former head of Corporate Marketing for General Electric Capital Service, remembers the exact moment she realized “almost everything is negotiable if you see it that way.” When she got out of business school, she accepted her first job as Assistant to the Director of Development at the Columbia Business School without really negotiating. She saw the offer as a choice, not a negotiation--you either took the job or you didn’t. It never crossed her mind that she could negotiate the offer.
While working at Columbia, however, she saw something that changed her view of the world. She had always assumed that, when you applied to business school, if you didn’t get in, you went to another business school or did something else. A few students, however, when they were rejected, sought out the Director of Admissions and asked what they could do to change her mind. To Davia’s amazement, the Director did not simply send them away. She told them if they took four semesters of Advanced Calculus and Statistics and got an A in each, she would admit them. A handful of students actually did and were admitted. At that point Davia realized that "way more things were negotiable than she had previously thought." So she decided to learn how to negotiate.
When asked, many women will tell you they don’t like to negotiate or are not good at it. They often believe that to be a good negotiator, they have to be tough, be aggressive, employ negotiating tricks and try to outsmart their opponent. So when they have to negotiate, that is what they try to do. It usually doesn’t work. Many women are simply not comfortable with that style of negotiating, preferring a more collaborative negotiating style. Because many women have not learned that there are other successful negotiating styles other than the competitive negotiating style, they either avoid negotiating or think they do not have an aptitude for it.
Instead, to be successful, women need to employ a negotiating style that makes them feel comfortable. How you negotiate needs to reflect who you are. You have to be authentic when you negotiate; otherwise, you lose all credibility. People see right through you if you try to be something you are not.
Tone is very important for women when they negotiate. While some women can be effective with a competitive negotiating style, it has to not only reflect who they are, but also be delivered with the right tone. One successful investment banker that we interviewed described it this way: “For a man to take a tough position he needs to use a tough tone to be believable. For women it is just the opposite: The tougher the position, the softer the tone should be.” If you are soft-spoken, you can be a soft-spoken negotiator and still take forceful positions. You can disagree politely but firmly. You can provide your reasons for seeing things differently. You can offer alternatives.
Ultimately, however, you have to be resolute rather than give in to something that is contrary to your interests, although you need to be flexible in how you satisfy those interests. This is what we call being “quietly, confidently firm.” It is very powerful. If you are quietly, confidently firm, when you do raise your voice, even just a little, people will notice. They will know that you are serious. Even successful women, who have a competitive negotiating style, often soften their approach by using humor and ensuring that their positions are delivered in the right tone.
Esther Novak, CEO of Vanguard Communication, a multicultural marketing firm, believes that to negotiate successfully as a woman, credibility is the key. To gain that credibility, according to Esther, one needs to “be smarter, better and firmer” in your negotiating, but always with the right tone.