What I Learned About Negotiation as the Only Woman in the Room

(For 20+ Years…)

If you google “women & negotiation” or any iteration thereof, you will be inundated with hits that tell you all about the sad and terrible life of the female negotiator.

This includes, but is by no means limited to, advice on the following points:

  • Skills you MUST cultivate.
  • Characteristics you MUST eliminate.
  • How to ask.
  • How not to ask.
  • Negotiation isn’t “asking” at all!
  • Act like a nice girl. Even if you technically ceased being a “girl” decades ago.
  • Put on your resting bitch face. (Yes, to my complete horror, that’s a thing.)
  • Dress like a man.
  • Wear a dress to throw them off.

There is no end to the depressing, nonsense negotiation advice that abounds for women.

I graduated from law school nearly 20 years ago. And while my class had more female students than male students, every position I have held since then has featured more men around than women. Most of the negotiations I have participated in included me as the only woman in the room. While most of these experiences have been completely innocuous, there are certainly lessons to be shared.

Here is what I have learned about negotiations as the only woman in the room over my twenty year career. And delivered to you in a way that is hopefully not scary or depressing, like much of the tidbits usually offered as negotiation advice for women.

1. It’s not personal. It’s business.

Whether you are negotiating for a client, for your salary, with a business partner, etc., we are told that the negotiation it is not about you. It is a transaction.

This can be hard to process; it has been difficult for me many times. While I have often encountered negotiators who take this approach, I feel that removing the personal stakes I have in the conversation anesthetize it to a level that just feels wrong.

People sometimes tell women to pretend they are negotiating for a friend or loved one, instead of themselves. That is supposed to encourage you to push yourself harder, as you are working for someone who you care about.

Girl, I am telling you to love yourself and negotiate for you. Yes, negotiation stakes can be high, maybe intimidating, but learn to transform that fear to power. If it’s really important to you, it’s worth fighting for.

It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. — Lena Horne

2. There’s no crying in baseball.

Not. A. Tear.

While we are told to hold back all of our emotions at the negotiation table, I call B.S.

If you feel passionately about something, listen to your gut. Will letting the other people around you know this benefit your negotiation strategy? Sometimes a little emotion at the table is not a bad idea.

Listen to yourself. You know what’s best.

To be shrill is to reach above your station; to abandon your duty to soothe and please; in short, to be heard. — Lindy West

3. Show me the money.

Do not be afraid to talk about money. Talk about it with your friends. Your family. Anyone you trust.

Money is not a bad thing so you need not be embarrassed to bring it up. I’ve heard this from so many girlfriends… talking about money is tacky… Or it’s had to know where to start…. Or who makes the first offer.

Do your research, whatever it is you are negotiating for. Look at the relevant trends, decide on what’s the best goal for you, then amplify that number to make sure you didn’t under-value. Plus, you’ll want to start the negotiation from a number that’s higher than what you are ultimately looking for. Give yourself room to negotiate. Save your bottom line for later in the discussion.

One thing I learned along the way in business is the necessity to be unapologetic about asking for how much money you deserve. — Nicki Minaj

4. I’m the king of the world!

Confidence goes such a long way. I have seen men defend the most ridiculous positions, but straight-faced and brimming with confidence.

Remember when you go in for a negotiation that you got this. Educate yourself about the issues. Know who you’re up against, and what they value, too.

Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failures is another steppingstone to greatness. — Oprah Winfrey

Erin Gleason is a mediator, arbitrator and the founder of Take Charge Negotiations, LLC — a company that provides mindful negotiation training for women. Check out Erin’s eBook, Practicing Mindfulness: Positive Negotiation Techniques. Or visit the Take Charge Negotiations website for more tips and ideas.

Erin Gleason @ Take Charge Negotiations

Written by

Mediator. Settlement counsel. Negotiation consultant. Keynote speaker. Mindful negotiation.

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