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The One Negotiation Skill All Women Must Master

Ann Bartel gets what she wants. To get it, she gives away what she doesn't want. It must work: she's the Merrill Lynch Professor of Workforce Transformation at Columbia Business School, where she teaches a workshop-format course on negotiations. Recently she shared some ideas on how women can work with their typical preferences for collaboration to win when negotiating.

Women are a third of the school's students, so they're typically outnumbered in the class. "The men think that the women will be pushovers," Bartel says. Initially, the men are right. The women students almost always make a fatal mistake, early and often: they are too accommodating. "They give something without getting something back," Bartel explains. "If you're going to give somebody something, get something you want."

Can it really be that simple?

Yes. In negotiation, everybody wants to win. The more you know about what the other side really wants, the better positioned you are to give it to them -- in exchange for the things you really want.

"To be a good negotiator, you want to be fair but firm. Women are nervous about being firm. Be firm on what's important to you," Bartel advises. "Prioritize your issues so you know what your number one and number two are...and don't give in on those."

Here are Bartel's top negotiation tips:

  • If you know that you're going to give in, choose in advance what you will give.
  • If what you want and what the other side wants are diametrically opposed, find a different thing that they want and try to give them that. (Parents will recognize this as the "distract and win" toddler-taming technique. If Katie wants a cookie, and you want her to have carrots, give her sweet corn.)
  • If one of your must-haves is truly non-negotiable, explain why. If the other party has more context to understand why it's so important to you or your company, together you might be able to come up with a third option that works well for all. Brainstorming changes the dynamics, so you're both invested in the success of the outcome, Bartel says.
  • Practice in low-stakes negotiations -- like your vacation schedule -- and analyze your track record. This will help you gain confidence as you see your wins. That confidence will grow as you gain traction with your blended negotiation-collaboration style.
Old-style winner-takes-all isn't really negotiation. It's domination, and that does not help your company build long-term relationships -- a message that hits late and hard for the men in Bartel's classes, she says. "You might win the first round, but when it's time to renew, they're going to look for someone else," she says. "Negotiation involves thinking about future business relationships. We build scenarios that show, if you win in this round, you might not even make it to the next round."

Over the 12 weeks of the course, Bartel says some self-styled tough negotiators develop relationships that may haunt them sooner than they think: "Students who've been on the receiving end of a hard-nosed approach will say, 'This experience has given me pause. When I graduate, I'll think twice about doing business with this person.'"

Image: Scott Ableman; CC2.0

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