The Art of the Ask

Selena Rezvani

Yes, women negotiate less. Here’s what to do about it. 

We all know the facts: Women negotiate four times less than men. Women are not raised to negotiate or be outspoken. Women assume we’ll be recognized instead of asking for recognition. All of this results in lower starting pay, fewer raises, and lowered lifetime earning potential over the course of our careers.

We all know the facts. But how can we use those facts to empower us to make change in our own lives and careers?

One of the best talks I’ve heard on the topic was at this year’s POWER: Opening Doors for Women. Selena Rezvani, author of Pushback: How Smart Women Ask and Stand Up for What They Want, focused her talk, “The Art of the Ask,” on how women can use their natural strengths to guide them in successful negotiations. For those who want an in-depth look at this topic, I highly recommend picking up her book. Here are some of my favorite takeaways from her POWER presentation.

  • Men will apply for a job when they have 60 percent of the listed requirements. Women will apply for a job when they have 100 percent of the requirements. Part of the challenge is reaching for what we want and deserve. As Ms. Rezvani notes, “If you never hear ‘no’ in your career, you’re not asking for enough.” 
  • When you get asked a question on a specific topic and you don’t have a complete answer, lead with what you do know – then follow up with the points that you will proceed to research and find out. 
  • While women may be uncomfortable with self-promotion – and in fact,may often be penalized for it – sticking to the facts that prove your accomplishments can “bring the charge down in the conversation.” After all, “If it’s true, it’s not bragging.”
  • Before the negotiation, identify both your position – “I want to be promoted to senior vice president” – and your interests that underscore your position–”I’m bored in my current role, I want more exposure in the new department,” etc. Those interests allow you to negotiate from a place of strength, as it opens up more ways to find success in the negotiation.
  • Have a Plan A, B and C. A variety of alternatives allows you a chance to say, “Well, how about…” and keep the conversation moving. Keep pitching new ideas to get more of what you want.
  • Use a ‘tailored strategy’ to fit your audience. Get in their mindset before the negotiation and know what’s important to them. What is their ‘GPS’ (Goals, Passions, Struggles)? Craft your pitch to help them achieve their interests, solve their current problems or feed their passion projects.
  • In the opening moments, build rapport with your audience. Be the first to speak. This allows you to control the order and pace of the conversation, and to declare your optimism: “I’m confident we’re going to come up with a solution that works for both of us.”
  • Don’t use ‘dis-qualifiers’: those “This may be a silly idea, but”; “I’m not an expert, but” prefixes that women all too commonly tack onto their statements. Give ideas affirmatively and avoid a questioning tone.
  • Use ‘I’ statements – I think, I feel, I believe – sparingly. Stick to data and facts that prove your point.
  • Know the power of the pause. Be quiet strategically. A 5-7 second pause right after your make your request and right after you get your answer forces your negotiating partner to fill the silence.
  • Be aware of your non-verbal (physical) communication. If there’s a conflict between your verbal communication and your non-verbal communication, people will believe the non-verbal. You may think you’re nodding along to show that you’re listening, but it may be interpreted as agreement. Remain neutral.
  • Ask deepening questions. Comments like, How did you arrive at that; are you willing to negotiate that; what’s the cost of us not coming to an agreement both keep the conversation moving and insists on objective criteria.
  • If you are experiencing significant pushback, take a break or delay. Call on your options packages – but don’t share them all at once.
  • Remember the 70/20/10 rule. That is: 70 percent of the negotiation should be spent listening to the other person; 20 percent should be spent mirroring back what you’ve just heard; and 10 percent should be spent pushing your own agenda. This makes the other side feel heard.
  • When closing, confirm and summarize what was said. Offer to write it up, allowing you to formalize the agreement in your own terms.
  • And remember: if you don’t like the terms now, you will likely hate them later. Come to an agreement that allows a win/win.

About Cassandra A. Gaddo

Cassandra A. Gaddo is managing director of Step Up Women's Network in Chicago. A passionate advocate for gender equality and the advancement of women and girls, she is also a board member of Rape Victim Advocates, and a Young Professionals Ambassador for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She writes and speaks about local, national and international women's issues, including in her blog, "Twice As Well."