Pay rises, promotions and the art of negotiation

07 Apr 2017  |  Ellen Hammett 
Pay rises, promotions and the art of negotiation

For some, it comes naturally, for others it's a stressful nightmare. So what makes for a successful negotiation?

We begin negotiating from the moment we learn to talk. The small, babbling child trying to get those sweets that mum won’t allow; the 17-year-old that dares to ask for a car in exchange for good grades; the uni student negotiating for an extension on that essay they forgot to do.

And then we’re the mother and the wife dealing with the child and the stroppy teens; or a partner with conflicting views.

Big, small, successful, not-so-successful; our days are filled with negotiations. But when it comes to the workplace, most of us tend to stick our heads in the sand. And for women especially - often working in male-dominated environments - whether it’s doing a business deal, or bringing up one of the big, daunting Ps (pay rise and promotion), negotiating can be seen as more of a challenge than an opportunity.

But times are changing; and with the current gender pay gap at 18% and just seven female CEOs in the FTSE 100, it’s time to start challenging business norms and start asking tough questions that will help achieve a fairer workplace in future - and ensure women get salaries and deals based on the work that they do and not their gender.

So what makes a successful negotiation? This is what the latest WACL gathering, under Chatham House rule, set out to tackle last week - and it was especially interesting to hear from some really senior women at the top of the chain who have had experience in negotiating from both sides of the table.

Chaired by Dentsu Aegis UK CEO Tracy De Groose, the panel was made up of VCCP Media CEO Catherine Becker, Bourne Leisure’s Roisin Donnelly, Kate Waters, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Now Advertising, and Judopay’s marketing director, Therese Baggas.

Firstly, it’s wise to remember that men and women are wired differently; what comes easy to one sex might seem like a mountain to climb for the other.

When negotiating, men tend to be much more linear and decisive in their arguments, while the decision process for women is generally more ‘coil-like’ - meaning we tend to go back and forth between points of information before we come to a decision.

Men also tend to shout loudest, often making getting from A to B much easier. That said, having the guts - not necessarily the balls - to approach your boss at the Christmas party and ask for a pay rise after a few glasses of wine isn’t the only secret to getting what you want.

Striking a careful balance between rationality and emotion (“the moment emotion replaces rational you lose the argument”), knowing the objectives of the person you’re negotiating with, and getting the timing right, came up multiple times during the discussion - all crucial in determining the outcome of a negotiation.

Be well-prepared, too - like lawyers, who spend just 5% of their time in the court room and 95% of the time preparing.

Think: What do I want? What is my destination and what are all the ways I can get there? What are the pros, cons and costs? Anticipate all objections and go in feeling confident with all the answers.

But also know when to pause and listen. “It’s got to be a conversation,” one senior marketing boss said. “Women tend to talk a hell of a lot, and if you can just stop, listen and be quiet, people will lean forward and listen more.”

Negotiating can sometimes feel like a war with the other person. To overcome that, the focus instead needs to be on convincing the other person it’s a ‘win-win’ situation.

For example, if you tell a teenager to study or tidy their room, they probably won’t do it. But ask them what their boyfriend or girlfriend would think if they saw their bedroom right now; or tell them that if they knuckle down at get their A Levels they can leave home and never have to hear you moan about studying again, it’s a different story.

“Think of win-wins with the everyday situations because you’ll go a long way.”

But what if we stopped thinking of negotiating as negotiating, and instead treated it like any other conversation we might have? What if we reframed the concept of negotiating entirely to feel more natural and less intimidating?

“I find it much easier to think about all of those conversations as just that: conversations,” one WACL member divulged. “But they’re conversations where I’m trying to influence the outcome to be something that I want...making the environment more conducive to the way that I want it.”

As well as reframing, we should start ‘chunking’ too, i.e. dividing big problems into lots of small parts.

“When you have lots of little conversations, you can begin to see what’s important,” they added. “And very gently, over the course of a period of time, you can uncover what’s important to the other person and begin to tap away into their barriers and any objections they might have.”

Beyond the talk, it’s also useful to consider body language and appearance, where the differences between men and women can be subtle but important.

For women working in male-dominated jobs, mirroring male behaviour is perhaps one useful trick.

“I work in a very male-dominated environment...I mirror male behaviour because it makes me have a stronger seat at the table,” another speaker said.

“The reality is, when I dress like they do they listen to me more. When I go in there and see them stretched out and sitting down, I do the same thing because it plays to my advantage. If I did something that was perhaps more natural to me, I would be less listened to.”

However, our actions can often be misinterpreted so aim to be clear, concise and self-aware.

“Women nod and smile all the time, but in man-speak, that means you agree,” a room full of nodding and smiling women heard. “Be conscious of what you do...men always look the same, whether they have a big meeting or not. Women change the way they look and act.”

And when it comes to actually accepting a job offer? Take your time. Women are much more likely to accept right away, immediately shutting down any opportunities for negotiation, while men tend to say they’ll “think about it” - leaving the conversation open and the ball in their court.

So whether it’s being more confident, preparing better, or getting your timing - or stance - right, there are clearly a number of things women can do to make negotiating feel like a much less daunting task.

And while it’s unlikely to close that pay gap right away, or see an equal split on boards in the near future, asking these tough questions can only pave the way for positive change in the long term.

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