A group of executive women from Johnson & Johnson, Accenture, Merck, Kimberly Clark and other Fortune 500 companies attended last Thursday’s lively webinar on women and negotiation skills hosted by Smith College Executive Education. The topic, which drew more than one hundred and fifty registrants, was presented by Selena Rezvani, author of the new book PUSHBACK: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want. Rezvani started out by highlighting U.S.-based research indicating that women initiate negotiations four times less often than men. Yet interestingly, research also reveals that women have natural strengths such as the ability to stabilize contentious situations, acknowledge intangibles, and adopt a more consultative approach, all of which enable them to become expert negotiators.
The noon hour session was packed with tips on how women can begin to shift the paradigm of negotiation. From planning a “tailored strategy” to knowing your material to acting out your position in anticipation of pushback to using appropriate body language, Rezvani emphasized the utmost importance of preparation and practice. She encouraged the women to use hard data and facts to support their position as opposed to “I feel” statements. One attendee responded to this advice by saying that she had always been taught that “using ‘I feel’ statements was preferable because people can’t refute how you feel.” However, as Rezvani highlights in her book, the effectiveness of tangible, factual information in negotiation cannot be underestimated: “If you think about it, it’s just like writing a paper in school. Your opinion matters, but only in the context of the research you’ve done” (p. 76).
Another attendee asked about strategies for negotiating virtually or remotely since while “working in a global company, I have to negotiate over the phone.” Rezvani stressed how valuable face-to-face meetings prove in yielding the best results and recommended the use of video conferencing tools such as Skype. Participants also had several questions about the use of “silence” as a negotiation strategy. In response to a question about how long the silence should be, Rezvani advised, “give yourself seven seconds of silence to let your ‘ask’ sink in and to show that you stand behind it.” Further, she couldn’t emphasize enough how powerful “silence” can be as a maneuvering tool. In PUSHBACK, Rezvani reminds us that, “as women, we need to use silence to our advantage even if our conditioning leads us to want to accommodate others, be conciliatory, or worry that we’re being difficult.” Rezvani concluded the presentation by pointing out the costs of not utilizing pushback; failure to negotiate hurts women’s earning potential, access to stretch assignments and opportunities for promotions.
So roll up your sleeves and get ready to negotiate! And don’t forget to pick up a copy of PUSHBACK for a brilliantly written step-by-step guide to maximizing your negotiation potential.