Women have a long history of successful negotiations.
Women have used their powers of persuasion, collaboration and vision to accomplish amazing feats. Think of any feminist icon, and you'll likely find an individual who relied on good negotiation skills to tackle difficult challenges. Still, over my career, I've found that many women are insecure about their ability to negotiate with others, especially under difficult circumstances or when the stakes are high. When I have coffee with my friends and discuss their small businesses, this is the advice that I find myself giving over and over again.
Define the Ideal Outcome
This is the same principal that athletes use to win games: Picture the ideal outcome before you start. This is an important step because it will help you to gauge what is really valuable and what you can do without. For example, if you are entering a negotiation with a key customer, the ideal outcome may involve a long term commitment to your products or services or resolution of a dispute without losing that customer's business. Always know what you are aiming for before you start negotiating. This is important because without defining your goal, it's easy to get mired down in details.
Think of tough negotiations like getting pulled over at 4 AM. Talking too much is going to get you into trouble. Yet, so many women feel the need to explain their positions. This can be really common for female solo-preneurs and small business owners, where the business is so personal for them. Things that are usually no one's business in a negotiation (except yours): Your fear about your business's reputation, your fear that you don't have the personnel, money or time to meet someone's demands on your business, your anger about a request, your sadness about a request, your competitor's approach to handling a problem, your business's financial standing, your present workload, etc...
Contrary to popular belief, not every position during a negotiation needs to be well supported and communicated to the other side. Often, this just allows the other party to pick apart your positions, one by one. Don't take the bait! State your position, succinctly and clearly, and resist when the other party questions "that one word" or "that one e-mail" or "that one exception." Keep coming back to your primary position like a Mom sidestepping her kids' attempts to eat candy for dinner.
Take Your Time
There are many tactics oriented toward accelerating negotiations, especially if someone is trying to get you to purchase something. Remember, if you feel overwhelmed or want a second opinion, don't hesitate to punt. There is nothing wrong with buying yourself time. Even at senior levels of a business, it's not uncommon to ask for extra time to discuss a point internally or spend more time with a document. It doesn't make you look unprepared or uninformed to ask for more time. When you feel pressure, ask yourself and the other party if there is a material reason that the matter must be concluded that very instant. If not, take a day to sleep on it or discuss it with a friend or counselor.
It can be easy during tough negotiations to fall into the temptation of "good vs. bad" or "us vs. them." Try to avoid doing that. Everyone you negotiate with comes with their own unique set of needs and insecurities and issues. I've been absolutely dressed down for taking tough positions and refusing to cave in, but you just have to shrug and accept that many people have never been very good at hearing "no" for an answer. It isn't personal, as long as you've been respectful. When people realize that they are not going to get something they want, they can become irritated, spiteful and aggressive.
Be prepared for that aggression with a simple response, like "I realize that you were hoping for a different answer, and recognize that must be frustrating for you, but please know that I am unable to agree to your request." Resist the urge to say "at this time." It's one of those phrases that people will latch onto! So...if not at this time, what time would work? What has to change for you to give me what I want? Resist the temptation to "soften" a refusal or hard stance.
Always, Always, Always Say "Thank You."
It can be really tempting after a tough negotiation to just walk out of the room or slam the phone down, sighing "I'm glad that's over!" Still, I can't tell you how many relationships have been salvaged by the simple act of saying, "I realize this has been a challenging discussion and that we covered a lot of points. I really want to say 'Thank You' for taking the time to speak with me today." Many negotiations are uncomfortable and if there is anything we all know about human beings, it's that they really don't like to be uncomfortable. Just acknowledging that can de-fang even the most difficult negotiation partners.
Always, Always, Always Express Optimism
This is a useful tool whenever things appear to be going South. It can be very powerful to say, "I'm confident that we'll reach agreement on this." After all, you probably will! In all of my negotiations (thousands of them), I've had very few deals ever "hit the floor" over a genuine impasse. In negotiations as in life, when you expect the best, you often receive it.
I've included stories, anecdotes and useful tips I've gained over my career as an Entrepreneur, Board Member, Executive and Senior Counsel. I hope you can find ways to navigate to your own dreams by learning from my experience! Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or want to share your own stories. Stay inspired!