Get That Money
After the Sony hack heard round the world, Charlize Theron found herself in a position familiar to many women: She discovered that her male colleague made more than her.
According to The New York Post, the leaked emails exposed that Charlize was paid less than her costar, Chris Hemsworth, for their upcoming movie, The Huntsman. So the Oscar winner reportedly “insisted” that she be paid the same amount (upwards of $10 million).
Negotiation is one of the most powerful yet underutilized skills a woman (or anyone) can develop. Whether you’re asking for a raise, closing a deal, looking to telecommute, or dividing household duties, you need to know how to negotiate.
Here are six steps to becoming a more skillful negotiator both in and out of the office.
Let Go of Being “Nice”
The first step in becoming a skilled negotiator is to stop being so “good”. When women star in the “good girl” role at work, they view their jobs as meeting or beating expectations, making their clients’ and bosses’ lives easier, and trying only to solve problems — never to cause them. That’s not a bad way to operate, except when women view asking for a raise or assignment as being out of alignment with their “good girl” character.
If we truly think about what we want for ourselves, we’ll see that asking is a good thing to do. For starters, by asking for what we want, we are giving our bosses a chance to meet our needs. As a result, we’re helping them retain a good employee. If you are truly as good as the role you’ve cast yourself in, then the boss probably wants to hold on to you. So asking for what you deserve helps both parties create a satisfactory working relationship.
The same goes for playing the role of “good wife” and “good mother.” How many of us can recall a time in our childhood when our mothers, tired of picking up after everyone, went on strike — throwing the family into a tailspin to force a change? If we ask for what we want before we reach our breaking point, we’ll do everyone a favor.
Think of the Precedent You’ll Be Setting
During negotiations, stop thinking about yourself and start thinking of all the other women in your network. Reframe your thought process to include the welfare of others in addition to your own. Instead of thinking, ”Am I being too assertive?” or “Who do I think I am to ask for (fill in the blank)?” shift the situation and frame it around your network of women. Your thought process then becomes, “What do women need to manage a family in this economy? How can I leverage my strengths to advance women? What do women deserve?” Suddenly, it’s a whole new conversation, and the stakes are even higher. But paradoxically, you feel less pressure — because it’s no longer just about you.
Try the same exercise with your family in mind. “What does my family deserve in exchange for my hours away from home?” And suddenly you’re negotiating from a position of strength.
Do Your Homework
Never enter into a negotiation if you’re not prepared. If you’re not feeling strong and organized, postpone. In addition to thinking through what you want and what you have to offer the other party, you also want to research:
- Who else tried to negotiate the same thing?
- What kind of obstacles did they face?
- What objections did they hear?
Think through possible tradeoffs and line up your allies. Ask yourself how you are going to make your request work for everyone involved. If you’re asking for a higher deal price, what are you offering in return? If you want someone else to do the grocery shopping, what are you willing to shift? Do you want to work from home? If so, how will you make it work for your clients and your team?
Pick Your Battles
As you become comfortable with negotiating, you’ll realize that everything is flexible. But that doesn’t mean you should ask for everything you want. Learn to pick your battles. Keep your long-term goals in mind as well as your short-term goals. For example, if your long-term goal is to join the management team in your thirties in order to have more flexibility as a working mother, then perhaps asking to work from home isn’t the right call in your twenties.
Likewise, if you’re looking to increase your responsibilities at work and will need more help during the morning routine at home, the timing might not be right to ask your partner to cover all weekend activities.
When the time is right to negotiate, remember it’s a two-way street. For example, if your company gives you the flexibility to work from home on Fridays, would you be willing to come in occasionally for important meetings?
Learn How to Diagnose a Climate
Strong negotiators ask lots of diagnostic questions, such as “What are your thoughts about…?”; “Would you be open to… ?”; “Are you concerned about…?” That type of exchange might feel natural across the conference table, but isn’t necessarily how you’re used to speaking at the kitchen table. Practice. In order to effectively negotiate with a manager or a partner, we need to remove some of the emotion we naturally attach to the situation or outcome. Diagnostic questions can help.
Removing emotion from negotiation is much easier for some women when they are talking to a boss rather than a spouse. That’s because at home, we’re sometimes up against expectations of how we think we’re supposed to be as a wife and a mother. Think about what is realistic in your personal circumstances; leave the rest of the world out of it. Negotiating an equitable arrangement at home is critical in order for us to achieve equity at work.
Try and Try Again
It may sound cliché, but it’s true: “No” is often the starting point, not the ending point, of a negotiation. Successful negotiations don’t usually happen in one try. Take salary discussion: Unless you’re already slated for an increase, it’s unrealistic to expect you can walk into your boss’s office, ask for a raise, and get to “yes” in one quick meeting. Invest the time in meaningful discussions and a healthy exchange of ideas to reach a mutually satisfying agreement. And even then, the negotiating shouldn’t end.
Renegotiation is a critical step in the process. As goals are met and circumstances change, revisit your agreements. For example, if you scaled back at work after the birth of a child and are now increasing your hours at the office, make sure to renegotiate the division of labor at home.
Successful negotiation takes practice, patience, and a willingness to try.
This has been updated by Koa Beck; the original version was published in 2013.
Liz O’Donnell is the author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman, and the founder of Hello Ladies.