Negotiate with confidence—even in a downturn

In a world full of uncertainty and unknowns, it might seem this is not the time to negotiate for our career growth and compensation. I disagree.

Instead of simply focusing on the timing, I encourage all professionals to view this as an opportunity to prepare and expand their knowledge while improving their skills and business acumen. Unfortunately, no matter the timing and situation, negotiating for career growth and compensation seems to take a backseat -- especially for women. According to a 2019 Randstad US study, close to 60% of professional women admitted to not negotiating their pay. This may be a factor in another troubling finding: 72% of women leave their employer.

So why don’t women negotiate their salary upfront? One-third say they’re uncomfortable talking about pay.

The only way to combat fear is by engaging in more negotiation opportunities throughout your career. A good place to start is to empower yourself not only with information but also with confidence. To be successful in your efforts, you need to better understand the negotiation foundation and build on that in reference to your own career path, desires, and goals. The University of Washington for AIA stated, “Negotiation has been traditionally a man's game, and therefore done under white men's rules.” This fact gives men a huge advantage over women, and even more over women of color. Men are part of the rules and feel comfortable navigating them with ease.

This might sound frustrating. But in reality, professional woman can combat this effectively by embracing the following three behaviors:

Behavior 1: Negotiation must be practiced.

Practicing is a way to expand your capabilities while gaining input from third parties on your approach.  Additionally, the act of practicing helps your ears feel comfortable listening to the message being uttered by your mouth. I recommend professionals extend their practicing efforts to include trusted third parties who can provide you with constructive feedback.

Behavior 2: There is a negotiation process to follow.

This negotiation process can be used for anything -- not just your job search. Follow these steps in order, and you’re sure to receive positive outcomes in return.

  1. Pre-negotiation: This step comes before any interaction takes place among the respective parties. Focus on determining the other party’s perspective and point of view to start preparing your argument so that you can answer for any pain points or concerns. If you don’t have a clue how to figure these out, then it’s time to reach out to others in your network. The answers you receive will assist you in determining different ways to reach an agreement and formulate a favorable outcome for both parties.
  2. Opening: This is the first step where the interaction begins. Normally, we are anxious about negotiating, and we simply jump into discussing what we want. That approach is not helpful and creates an us-versus-them dynamic that prevents a mutually beneficial agreement from being made. Instead, take the time to identify an agenda, determine guidelines on how to conduct the negotiation, and identify the decision-making process and timeline. This approach might sound tedious, but it reaps cascading benefits in the long run, since all involved are aware of the process and what lies ahead.
  3. Information Sharing: Now is your time to share what you know while asking for input and knowledge from the other party. This should be an open and honest conversation. Put your cards on the table to come to an agreement that benefits both parties.
  4. Problem Solving: Successfully sharing information leads to more effective problem-solving engagement. During this time, both parties can share their respective solutions based on the information gathered and work toward reaching some sort of compromise.
  5. Agreement: By getting to this final step, you are ready to formalize the agreement between the parties and the outside world. It’s best to put all agreements in writing and communicate them to others. This way if doubts emerge later, there is an agreement to reference.

The best negotiations occur when the parties flow seamlessly between all steps.

Normally large agreements, like a promotion and compensation increase, aren’t reached and determined in one negotiation session. Instead, parties must work on reaching small agreements that will get them to an agreement on the larger issue at-hand. By working through small agreements, parties are able to build a level of trust that will keep all engaged until the end.

Behavior 3: Nobody can operate in a vacuum.

It is imperative that we operate with knowledge regarding our surroundings. No matter how hard you work, if you don’t have a group of allies and mentors who can help you navigate your career, it will be very difficult to succeed. These individuals become your eyes and ears, not only providing professional guidance but also serving as key influencers in areas you’d like to work. By engaging with these different individuals, you are able to grow while keeping a strong understanding of the other party’s structure and associated context.

These three behaviors are easy to implement and can guarantee success in the long run. I encourage you to reach out to a couple of colleagues to discuss how you can assist each other with practicing negotiation behaviors together and implementing them in your own careers. At first you might feel overwhelmed and not confident in a positive outcome.

Like anything in life, one must trust the process and go for it. Continue arming yourself with the necessary tools and knowledge to improve your negotiation skills. We are all capable of becoming effective negotiators.


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