Seal the Deal

Negotiating can be difficult, but sharpening your skills in advance will put you on top.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the May 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Running a company requires many different skills, not all of which come easily to everyone. Is negotiating one of the skills that tends to be more challenging for women?

"Women have an easier time asking for something for someone other than themselves," says Ronna Lichtenberg, president of New York City-based management consulting firm Clear Peak Communications and author of Pitch Like a Girl: How a Woman Can Be Herself and Still Succeed . "For reasons having to do with both nature and nurture, women also have a difficult time with self-promotion, which is what negotiation can feel like."

Carol Frohlinger, a managing partner with The Shadow Negotiation LLC in Long Island, New York, which provides negotiation skills training for women, and co-author of Her Place at the Table: A Woman's Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success , sees additional challenges for women. "Many women have preconceived notions of what a successful negotiator does based on traditional male models--the 'take no prisoners' approach. And that approach to negotiation just doesn't work for us. It isn't comfortable."

To illustrate the difference between how men and women perceive negotiations, Frohlinger asked a group of men and women to share their definitions of win-win. "The response I got from a man was, 'Win-win negotiation is when you win, but the other party thinks he's won'--a focus on the short-term result without much consideration as to what will happen when the 'loser' figures it out," she says. Lack of negotiating skills can affect an owner's reputation--and a company's bottom line.

Says Lichtenberg, "Women often discount themselves. They say things like 'You may have already thought about this, but . . . ' or 'I probably shouldn't ask you, but . . . .' Women also may not do their homework about their market value, or may ask for too little to avoid how uncomfortable they feel negotiating."

Lichtenberg notes that it can be particularly hard for women to negotiate with someone they like, because they're concerned the negotiation may upset the relationship.

Michelle Lemmons-Poscente, 43, often has to negotiate as president of Dallas-based International Speakers Bureau , a $6 million company that provides speakers and presenters for special events, meetings, conferences and conventions. She recommends that, when you're at a negotiating standstill, you come up with an entirely different deal, offering a fresh solution for both parties. Most of all, she believes it's important to have confidence and not be afraid to walk away from a deal. "Don't get emotionally attached to any deal," she says. "Keep every negotiation in black and white--keep focused on the facts of the deal and what you want to walk away with."

Lichtenberg suggests imagining you're negotiating on behalf of someone else who deserves a premium price--doing so can make you more comfortable asking for more. "Get your talking points down to something you can write on a small sticky note," she also suggests. "Pay attention to your own and the other person's style. Different people require different kinds of pitches."

Frohlinger concurs that in negotiations, you should always consider the other person's interests as well as your own: "It takes two to make an agreement."

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