Women and negotiation
or, an interview with Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida, author of "New Story, New Power: A Woman's Guide to Negotiation"
Does the idea of asking for a raise or re-negotiating your salary make you break out in a cold sweat? If so, you’re not alone. Negotiation is often one of the most fraught topics for professional women. I’ve had a few requests for a post specifically on this topic, so I’m excited to bring you my interview with Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida, author of New Story, New Power: A Woman's Guide to Negotiation.
Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida, is the President and CEO of Fisher Yoshida International, a consulting firm that serves global organizations across industries in the Fortune 100, private sector, United Nations, nonprofit and government sectors, military and security forces, school districts and academic institutions. Additionally, she is a Professor of Professional Practice and Program Director of the Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University. She’s a working mom and has two adult daughters.
JW: In your book, you say that negotiation is a relational communication process. What do you mean, and why is this frame particularly important for women?
BFY: First, I want to point out that there are many things that can be described as a negotiation, although we mainly tend to think about it in the formal professional setting. People have much more experience negotiating than they give themselves credit for because, in some ways, everything's a negotiation.
When I think of negotiation as relational, it takes away some of the stigma of, "Oh no, I have to perform well, and get what I want”. Instead, if you think of it as relational, then you allow yourself to say, "I'm really curious about this other person," which allows you to focus on connecting and building that relationship. It helps me relax, and then I become better at what I'm doing because my energy flows better. Instead of getting tongue-tied, or thinking about the next move in the negotiation, I focus on building the relationship, which is something I know I’m good at.
This is particularly important for women because the research shows that women have a strong tendency to be connectors, and relationship-builders. So why not use a strength that we have both innately and culturally?
JW: Why is it important to explore the narratives that we hold about negotiation?
BFY: It's important because, often, the stories we tell ourselves get in the way of us getting what we want. We tell ourselves certain things about who we need to be, or we have an image about who we need to be—and these things affect us, and affect our self-esteem. So we need to unpack those narratives, and replace them with something healthier.
JW: For so many women this is such a landmine. Not only do we have the personal narratives that we've been told on an individual level. But from a societal level, we've been told that women aren't as “good” at negotiation as men—so, we’re afraid of being pushovers, but at the same time we’re told that if we drive too hard, we’re going to turn people off. How can women juggle all of this in a negotiation?
BFY: You really have to know your audience. Obviously, if you’re negotiating with a known person, you have insight into what kind of tone to strike. When you’re negotiating with someone you don’t know well, I would probably start off on the softer side. But that doesn't mean you're a pushover. I say that you can be soft and fluffy on the outside, but you have a steel rod in your spine.
I studied art when I lived in Japan. And I did all these different brush paintings of orchids, and one of them has the orchid blowing over in the rain, but then it comes back. So you can bend and move and go with the flow, but you know who you are and you know what you want at the end of the day.
I would caveat this by saying that if you’re in a situation where if you need to establish your credibility, you may want to be a little bit more assertive than not.
JW: In the book, you discussed how important it is to prepare before a negotiation. Help us understand the key components of this preparation.
BFY: I think a lot of people don't want to spend the time or don't think they need to spend the time to prepare. I always say “winging it” is not a strategy. Obviously you have to know the basics: Who am I negotiating with? What is the topic I'm negotiating about? What's my emotional attachment to that topic? But then you really have to consider, “who am I in relation to this other person?” If this person is somebody who I really want to impress, or I feel is much more powerful than I am, or really has something that I want, then I'm putting a lot more pressure on myself to show up in a very specific way, and that can be tricky.
Then you have to ask, "What stories do I carry that are going to be helpful in this situation?" So, I'll think back on stories of success about me as a connector, as somebody strong, as somebody competent and successful. And I might think, too, about a story that would pull me away from where I want to be, and then I have to think, "Okay, no, it's not going to be this story."
Beyond that, I encourage you to plan out what you’ll say. Things like knowing your opening line and engaging in some scenario planning. For example, “If they say this, how will I respond?” or “If this goes in a different way, am I okay with that?” I also encourage women to have a strategy for how to pull back if things are going in a direction you aren’t comfortable with. For example, I might say to somebody, "I think we've gone as far as we can today. Maybe we need to go back and regroup and come back again later." And ultimately, you also need to think through how you’ll know it’s time to walk away and end the negotiation if it isn’t productive.
JW: What advice do you have for someone who tends to get really emotional during negotiations?
BFY: Ultimately, emotions are information. So part of the self-awareness check is understanding your emotions in advance, and asking yourself questions like: "Why is this such a sticking point for me?” and “What’s really at stake here?” Once you have a better understanding of your feelings, identify both your triggers and strategies that either help you calm down to buy you time. Maybe it means suggesting, "Hey, let's take a five-minute break”, and going to a physically different place to calm down.
I know so many women who try to tell themselves, "Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry." This doesn’t work! You can't tell yourself not to cry; instead, shift the dynamics in some way. Either shift the topic, shift your physical sense, think or have some visual imagery or sound that triggers a different emotional level for you. If you're sitting, maybe you need to stand up and just stretch your legs a little bit and walk.
Remember, it's not bad to get emotional. It's bad if you can't control it, because then you can't stay focused and do what you want to do.
JW: What advice do you have for negotiations that feel really personal—let's say around a raise or a promotion or something where a person feels the outcome is a statement of their value or worth?
BFY: When it comes to raises and promotions, if you put yourself in a corner where you're only asking for one thing, then you put yourself in a yes/no scenario. And if it's no, then what?
I always recommend that you don't only think about a title or a number. Think about all the other ways in which you can be shown appreciation and continue to grow. For example, is there a tuition reimbursement program? Can you shadow somebody to learn more skills? Can you be assigned to a more advanced project, in order to develop a new skill? So, it may end up being a lateral move, but you're getting more breadth and more experience to equip you to then be more qualified later on in that organization or somewhere else.
If you feel like you're constantly hitting a ceiling and you're not getting a clear answer, then maybe it is time to look somewhere else. But don't leave before you've explored all the possible scenarios. But you have to do your homework in advance to come up with several satisfactory options. Because if the budget is set and there's a freeze on certain things, then you may not be able to get more money. But there are other ways of getting things that matter to you. And if they say “no” to everything, then that’s important information for you and you can plan your next steps accordingly.
JW: One of the things I talk a lot about in this newsletter is transferable skills that can used in both work and parenting. So final question for you: What suggestions do you have for instilling negotiating confidence in kids without driving yourself completely crazy in the process?
BFY: Kids are often demanding things they want. Parents can build negotiation skills by hearing them, acknowledging them and then saying, "Well, let's see if we can do it this way, instead. Let's see what our other options are." And really exploring options gives them that understanding that it doesn't have to be only their demand. Because they know that you've heard them, you're paying attention to them, you're emotionally involved with them. But also that it’s important to consider other options that are mutually agreeable—or even better.
I have another example that emphasizes the relational approach to negotiation. I was a single parent, and when my kids were living at home and I would come back from work, I'd be really tired. And I'd come in and my teenage daughters were laying around watching TV, and dishes were in the sink and stuff was all over the place. And I'd be like, "Oh my God. Why can't you wash your glasses?" And then they go, "There's Mommy again, complaining." Then the rest of the evening was no good.
After going through this cycle several times, I decided to take a more relational approach. I would acknowledge to myself that I was annoyed, but I wouldn’t go there with them. I'd walk in and I'd say, "Hi, how are you? How was your day?" And we spent time just talking and connecting. And then I would said, "Listen, why don't you come help me clean up the kitchen a little bit, okay?" It worked—I met them where they were and brought them a little bit to me, and then we worked together.
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