I hate this – I really do. But the reality is gender bias, both conscious and unconscious, can play a significant role in negotiations. And it is in our best interest ladies, to learn how to decrease the odds of it creeping into our negotiations.
In North America we tend to associate women with communal qualities such as being caring, nurturing, and cooperative, whereas we identify men with agentic traits such as being assertive, competitive, and independent. These stereotypes often result in "prescriptive gender norms" – that is societal expectations about how men and women should behave.
When women negotiate, particularly for themselves, they violate gender norms. When women ask for higher pay or better working conditions, they are seen as assertive, self-interested, or competitive, qualities traditionally associated with men. As a result, they may face backlash, which not only results in being denied the things they are asking for, but they're also likely to be regarded as less likeable, too aggressive, and even uncooperative.
And you know what happens to people who aren’t liked? They are denied promotions, more money, or getting fast tracked.
This backlash poses a significant and very real challenge for women if they don’t negotiate in a way that mitigates gender bias.
The I-We Negotiation Strategy
One such strategy, referred to as the “I-We” strategy, involves framing the negotiation in communal terms. That is focusing on how the negotiation outcome will benefit the team or organization rather than just yourself.
Here are two examples of the "I-We" Strategy in action:
"I really appreciate the opportunity to discuss my role. Over the past year, I have taken on new responsibilities, such as (specific tasks or projects), and I believe that my contributions have significantly benefited the team. According to my research, the average salary for someone with my responsibilities and experience in our industry is [specific figure] - (This is the 'I' part of the strategy.) With the additional compensation, I can pursue further professional development opportunities that are not only beneficial for me but for the company as well. With additional training, I can share more expertise and new ideas which would increase my productivity and contribute to our team's overall performance - (This is the 'we' part of the strategy).
In this example you want to go back to school to get an MBA. Instead of telling your boss that an MBA will provide you with the necessary skills to be a good manager, frame your ask by telling her how this graduate degree will benefit her and the organization.
“With the advanced financial and leadership skills I will acquire through an MBA program, I'll be well-equipped to take on more intricate tasks and complex projects. This will free up your time to concentrate on strategic planning, and long-term objectives for the organization".
Organizations need to do their part
While it’s important for women to learn how to strategically negotiate, it's equally, if not more, imperative that organizations actively work towards reducing gender biases in the workplace. This includes providing negotiation training and support for women, promoting awareness of gender biases, and creating organizational cultures that value and reward negotiation skills in everyone, regardless of gender.
Here's the thing that most people fail to recognize when it comes to negotiating. Many people wrongly assume that to negotiate well you need to be aggressive - the "I win, you lose strategy". That's inaccurate. The "I-we strategy", which by the way can be helpful for men as well, frames the situation as to the benefits that both parties stand to gain if an agreement is reached.
Secondly, most people fail to plan before a negotiation. And that is sure to tank your negotiation. There are however, frameworks you can use to learn how to position your ask in a way that increase the odds of your requests being granted. You see, we humans are predictable in many ways. And one of those ways involves the underlying assumptions we hold about ourselves and our negotiation partners, which are often wrong. And these limiting beliefs are sure to lead to suboptimal outcomes.
Studies in the fields of social psychology and behavioral economics have unearthed a number of principles that can enhance your negotiation skills. So you can learn this stuff instead of relying on your gut!
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