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Reluctant to Negotiate? Try “Asking” Instead

Alison Fragale, professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, began her Women Lead webinar with an unusual request: Open your work email and scan through it. She wasn’t trying to distract her viewers—she was making a point about how many of the emails we send and receive involve trying to get someone else’s cooperation. Whether the sender wants information, to schedule a meeting, or something else, these are all negotiations, and we go through hundreds of them every day.

Fragale said, “We’re going to talk about negotiation as basically a relationship management tool kit, where we are trying to achieve our goals, but we need other people to accomplish them.”

In the webinar, Women Lead: Be Your Own Best Advocate in Negotiations, Fragale shared research-backed insights on the discussed challenges that women face in negotiations. She said, “They’re all very solvable, and we see a lot of evidence that women negotiate just as effectively as men, but they may need to employ different or additional negotiation strategies.”

Avoiding Negotiations Comes With a Price

One of the studies Fragale referenced found that the starting salaries of male MBA graduates from Carnegie Mellon were 7.6% higher than those of women in the same class. Why?

It turned out that 57% of the men in the study had asked for more money, but only 7% of the women had. The women who did negotiate were just as likely as the men to receive a higher salary. Fragale said, “Basically, that difference in the willingness to engage in the conversation in the first place is what was causing the gap.”

(To learn more about why women are less likely to ask for what they want at work—and how to change that behavior—watch the Forté webinar Women Lead: Why Don’t Women Ask.)

Don’t Let the Word “Negotiate” Intimidate You 

The Carnegie Mellon research was followed up by a study that had people play a game of Boggle, and told them they’d be paid between $3 and $10 for their work. After the study, people were given $3. When they were told “Many times people negotiate for more,” men were much more likely to negotiate for more money than women were. When the wording was changed to, “Many times people ask for more,” the gender gap went away.

Fragale said that this is psychologically because “negotiate” is a more dominant, masculine word, while “ask” is submissive and feminine. She followed that up by offered the following advice: “If we talk ourselves out of negotiation because it doesn’t sound like a behavior that we would want to engage in, there are many other labels that we can use. We ‘ask.’ We ‘solve problems.’ We ‘collaborate.’ Whatever word gets you into the conversation with confidence, that is the word you should use.”

In the full webinar, Women Lead: Be Your Own Best Advocate in Negotiations, Alison Fragale talks about getting into the right mindset for negotiations, why it’s important to set high aspirations, and the importance of cultivating reciprocity, and more. This Forté webinar was recorded and is available on demand.

A full library of previous Forté webinars is available to Premium Access Pass members. For $50/year, Access Pass members receive exclusive invitations to Women Lead webinars.  If your company is a Forté partner you may be entitled to free Access Pass.  Check our sponsors to see if your organization is involved.  Access Pass members also have exclusive use of the Forté Job Center; you can browse positions and post your resume to be seen by leading companies seeking top talent.

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