Realize your New Year's resolution - negotiate!

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Realize your New Year's resolution - negotiate!

Position and Nuance the Key to Effective Negotiations for Women

by Ruth Schechter on Thursday, January 7, 2010 - 1:43am

 Professor Deborah KolbWhen it comes to negotiation, it’s not so much that women don’t ask as much as how they position themselves during the discussion. To take part in a successful negotiation, a woman needs to tie in what she needs—whether it be salary, maternity leave, flex time, or recognition—to how it can benefit the organization.

“In fact, women who link their needs to the good of the organization tend to receive better performance reviews, are more likely to be offered leadership opportunities, and are less likely to leave the organization,” said Deborah Kolb, PhD, the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor for Women and Leadership at the Simmons School of Management and a Clayman Institute Faculty Research Fellow, who discussed the topic at a presentation called “Too Bad for the Women or Does it Have to Be? Gender and Negotiation Research over the Past 25 Years."

Kolb, a national authority on gender issues and author of several books on women in the workplace, calls this process of connecting the dots between personal needs and organizational advantage the shadow negotiation. Successful negotiations take place at several levels—from the central issue under discussion to who is involved in the process and how the players position themselves. The shadow negotiation allows each participant to assess the situation, where power and status define what is truly negotiable. Finding ways to talk about the hidden agendas—the valid reasons for saying no—can both improve communication and expand opportunities.


“Context is key for success. Often a negotiation is not solely about money but about the opportunity to take on a role or to be acknowledged for ‘invisible work.’ Many organizations sustain exclusive networks at the higher levels, so women need to negotiate just to get to that place,” said Kolb.  “If a woman does not have access to insider information that is embedded in the organization, she loses a position of power in the negotiation process.”

Though most studies of institutional negotiations tend to focus solely on gender differences, Kolb said the process is more subtle and based on social practices that sustain gender inequality. Women maneuvering through an organization can be hampered by factors ranging from expectations of lower goals to cultural and institutional mechanisms that create a gendered context—dynamics that women must learn to navigate.

“Women must get to a position where they feel they have a legitimate claim to make an ask,” she said. “There needs to be a dual agenda perspective in place—to make the connection that what’s good for them is good for the organization.”

Despite holding positions of corporate power, women can learn to counter resistance to their bargaining efforts. They need to highlight the value they bring to their work and should acquire information that allows them to feel that what they ask for is legitimate and defensible. They also need to learn how to deal with resistance—to expect to be put into a defensive position.

“It’s important that women understand their value to the organization, are prepared to deal with pushback, and can be creative about addressing new opportunities,” said Kolb. “When more attention is paid to the nuanced ways that gender can play out in negotiations, women can find subtle ways to deal with these dynamics.”