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Negotiate with Confidence | Advice from Alexandra Dickinson of Ask For It

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I admit it, I am a hesitant negotiator. Between setting low expectations or feeling awkward in the moment, I often miss out on opportunities to create my ideal situation. If this sounds like it may apply to you as well, don’t worry! We are not alone.

In the book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide,  authors Linda Babcock and Lara Laschever report that women are 2.5 times more likely than men to say they “feel a great deal of apprehension” about negotiating in surveys.

In the past, I’ve had a few situations arise in my academic career where it seemed like a teacher and I were not on the same page about my current performance and future aspirations. Rather than advocating for myself, I accepted their “no” and avoided a conversation about it for fear of making things worse. The one time I did try to initiate a follow-up conversation after being denied a fellowship that I was highly qualified and recommended for, I got so nervous during the actual conversation that I ended up agreeing to a project I had no time for! 

Luckily, I attended a recent event at Idealist in honor of Equal Pay Day earlier this month. 

The seminar, co-hosted by the NYC Lady Project and Alexandra Dickinson of Ask For It, focused on empowering women in the workplace through enhancing our negotiation skills.

Ms. Dickinson shared her professional and personal insights into negotiation. She suggests thinking of negotiation as “creative problem-solving,” so that the other parties involved become your counterparts in the conversation, rather than your adversaries. As I feverishly took notes and asked questions, I reflected on my own experiences of confronting or avoiding negotiation...

In this article, I’ve focused on a few ideas that I have been working on since our Equal Pay Day event, so that I will be better prepared and more confident for my next big negotiation opportunity! Whether you are on the job or in a job search, these tips will also help you confidently negotiate your ideal situation:

“Think personally, act communally”

Before you begin, try asking yourself questions such as: How will my ideal situation help my counterpart achieve their goals? What common goals do we share and how do my wants fit into those desired outcomes? What qualities do I possess that will help?

Negotiation always involves at least two parties. If you focus only on your wants, it’s likely the outcome of the negotiation won’t satisfy you and you may miss out on opportunities you hadn’t considered.

Before even scheduling a meeting for your negotiation, try having conversations with the involved parties to glean more information. Use open-ended questions and actively listen to their responses. By figuring out what others want, you can use that information as leverage to get what you want. Moreover, your success may start a trend that benefits others and reinforces the idea that negotiations with you lead to positive outcomes!

Know your value

Take some time to research and assess your value beyond salary. Ask yourself: What is it that I bring to the table? What makes me unique from my coworkers or competitors? Is there something I’m already doing that they are unaware of? Your interpersonal skills, track record, education, and even hobbies all add to your value and may be useful bargaining chips.

According to Women Don’t Ask, women tend to ask for less and get less when they are negotiating because they are pessimistic about what is available to them. By researching your market value and identifying your unique characteristics that make you an asset to the company, you can be prepared, confident, and knowledgeable about your worth. This will also give you better insight into practices at similar organizations that may be applicable or even identify practices at your own organization you hadn’t considered!

Be precise

Whether you are negotiating your salary, your responsibilities, or anything else in the workplace, precision and clarity are key. It seems intuitive that exact numbers are perceived as truthful because they imply more forethought than round or general numbers. In other words, ask for $89,500 instead of $85,000. However, using specifics in any situation will help you learn more information from the other party, as well as increase the number of bargaining points on the table.

For example, you may be asking for a raise after a recent job review. Your “ask” doesn’t need to only be an exact dollar amount. Consider perks that would provide benefits to both you and your organization. Could enrolling in a class, attending a conference, or changing how you commute improve your work? These could be bargaining chips that your supervisor is also interested in. Give your counterpart the opportunity to consider two separate issues instead of fixating on one. This way, you are making it easier to create a win-win situation!

“Don’t leave yourself open to that ‘no’” - Alexandra Dickinson

How you ask is just as important as what you ask. If you feel like you are hitting a wall, try using open-ended statements and questions. Simply asking “Can I have Monday off?” leaves you open to that “No.” Instead, try opening the conversation by using Alexandra Dickinson’s magic words, “I would like...”. 

Try saying “I would like to take Monday off…” and follow-up with some specific points that address concerns they may have, such as the timing of a project you are responsible for or an upcoming organization event.

Your words are not the only thing influencing your counterpart’s thought process. Your emotions and body language can sway them as well. Help yourself exude confidence and a sense of calm by smiling, sitting or standing evenly (rather than putting your weight on one foot or the other), and taking time to breathe and think before you respond. The more in control of your thoughts and emotions you appear, the more likely it is that they will really hear and consider your argument.

Though I’ve already shared a few tips I learned, this last one is a tried and true saying we’ve all heard: Practice makes perfect. The more you negotiate, and the more you recognize when you have an opportunity to negotiate, the more confidence you will have for when it’s time for the higher stakes!

Practice being assertive, even outside of the work environment. Be the first one among your friends to suggest a plan for social events. Haggle with the vendor at the flea market. See what it’s like to put your needs out there first. Ask your close friends, mentors, or family members to role-play different scenarios with you and give you honest feedback.

By taking steps now to practice and prepare, you can sharpen your negotiation skills and gain the confidence you need to get things done!

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” —Helen Keller

By Jhia Jackson

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