5 Negotiation Mistakes Women Make

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I negotiate for a living. Yet, whenever I negotiated my own salary, I was nervous. I was irrationally afraid that they would rescind the entire offer if I asked for more. But the truth was, they offered a male colleague the same amount, yet I had years more experience — including courtroom experience he didn’t have.

Sound familiar?

I was victim to a common mistake women make: Being Too Cooperative. Wanting to avoid conflict between my potential male colleague and avoid conflict with my potential supervisors.

How do we fix this? Read on.

Whenever women negotiate, there is always a “Shadow Negotiation” – the unspoken assumptions, cultural norms, and self-sabotage that shape the negotiation itself. Here are some of the most common shadows in women’s negotiations.

Negotiation Mistake #1: Apologizing

Have you ever found yourself apologizing for yourself, when you did nothing wrong? It’s common for women to apologize when asking for something, usually when they are asking for something for themselves.

Quick Fix: It’s OK if there is a little silence during the negotiation. If you find yourself about to say “I’m sorry” – before or after your counteroffer –try to smile or pause instead.

Negotiation Mistake #2: Being Too Cooperative

Although successful negotiations involve some amount of cooperation and compromise, women tend to be too cooperative, and compromise too quickly.

Quick Fix: Always counter. Seriously. Even if you’re relieved to hear that the first offer meets your goals, make a counteroffer. 99% of the time, the worst that will happen is that the other person says “no” and you accept the first offer.

If you never ask, the answer is always ‘no.'”

Negotiation Mistake #3: Pressure to “Act like a man”

When you picture what a negotiation looks like, do you see someone pounding his fist on the table or storming out of the room? These power plays are not the most effective bargaining tools. The most successful negotiations look like conversations, with the parties gathering information from each other and coming up with solutions for a “win-win” agreement.

Quick Fix: Start the negotiation with a conversation. Listening and problem-solving are much more in the female wheelhouse – use those skills to your advantage.

Negotiation Mistake #4: Negative Female Stereotypes

On the other hand, studies have shown that women bargain less effectively when reminded of a negative female stereotype.

Quick Fix: To counteract this effect, channel your female role models, or at least remind yourself of the effective women you know before going in to your negotiation.

Negotiation Mistake #5: Relying on “Fairness” & Undervaluing your Worth

Don’t rely on what would be fair to each party. For example, some people base a salary request on their personal budget needs instead of their value in the marketplace. “Fairness” is an ever-moving, subjective target. Instead, rely on an objective standard of value – value that doesn’t change if the negotiators change.

Quick Fix: Research the value of the item being negotiated by looking at neutral authoritative sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics for salary (bls.gov) or kbb.com (for cars).

For a pretty, printable version of this tip sheet, click here.

These quick fixes will help in the short term, but the best way to get better at negotiating is to practice. Think of your next negotiation as practice, and I promise it will feel better each time.

Rebecca Neale

Principal Attorney

As an attorney, Rebecca represents people in divorce, custody, and guardianship proceedings. She also advises people about end-of-life decisions and creates estate plans tailored to their needs and goals. Read more about Rebecca’s Experience here.
Bedford Family Law

Bedford, Massachusetts

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