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September 12, 2022

The First Time I Tried to Negotiate, I Was Escorted Out of the Building

The first time I tried to negotiate, I was escorted out of the building… here’s how to avoid my mistakes.

In 2014, I was an MBA intern at a Fortune 50 company hoping for that coveted job offer. They gave me a summer assignment, which I finished in 3 weeks and was ecstatic because I thought this would be my chance to shine – I could show I did great work AND ask for an assignment on another team, so that I could get more exposure to the business. How great would that be?!

Are you already nervous? I wasn’t yet. I was too green to know any better. I spent the bulk of my weekend preparing for this conversation. I googled everything I could, scripted out my words, even practiced with my roommate.

Monday at 10am I walked into the intern coordinator’s office. By 10:08, I had managed to offend her (a byproduct of using the wrong negotiation strategy), by 10:12 I was told I “wasn’t a good fit for the culture”. Once it was clear I wouldn’t be getting a job offer, it didn’t make sense to waste the rest of the summer, so we parted ways, and per company protocol, I was escorted off the premises by a security guard, my head spinning.

Within 15 minutes I had gone from a top candidate to no job offer, and then no internship.

Fortunately, I had a full year of school left, both to get my career back on track and to figure out what happened in that room. My negotiations professor pointed me towards emerging research on the impact of gender in negotiations. I sat in the library for days pouring through dense academic studies on this topic, and learned a few things that could’ve led to a different outcome that day.

1) Negotiation is gendered. Honestly, most of the world is, so I don’t know why this surprised me. There are things my brother will say that land differently with folks than if I say it. Unfortunately, this puts women at a much higher risk of backlash. Not necessarily overt “punishment”, but you aren’t invited to the key meeting any more or your promotion cadence slows.

2) There is a solution to reduce backlash that is commonly recognized in research circles – it’s known as the relational (or communal) ask, combined with integrative negotiation strategy.

3) That solution largely hasn’t been connected to women who could use it on a daily basis. I have spent the past 15 years reading everything I can on women in the workforce, and I had never come across this information. Even now, most negotiation guidance for women is a collection of 80 tips (as if you can mentally index and refer to them in one of the most important conversations of your career), rather than a holistic strategy.

4) Most of the information out there – including advice given by “negotiation experts” – is more likely to result in backlash for women than men, but is given as if it is good advice for everyone. This is how I could have spent an entire weekend preparing for a conversation and yet get it so wrong – I was using advice that was created for men, but doesn’t carry the necessary caveat. “Warning: If you are a female and attempt to use this advice, it could derail your career”.

So how do you avoid making the same mistakes I did? Your gut instinct might be to stop negotiating all together (I certainly went through that phase), but that also means that you are walking away from significant benefits. Rather, I would suggest learning negotiation best practices that confer additional benefits on women. Specifically,

1. Think holistically about your negotiation. Don’t just ask for a raise, but also for other things that will increase your chances of success while decreasing your stress. Check out our list of 75+ things for ideas. We know that the workplace was created for white men who have full-time partner at home, so to the extent that isn’t you, there is likely plenty to negotiate.

2. Check with your network. Before going into the conversation, talk with others your trust – you’re planning on asking for X – does that sound right to them? Is there anything else you should know? (Had I done this, I would’ve learned that the intern coordinator was sensitive about the program, and likely taken a different approach).

3. Ask communally. When you state your ask, lay out the benefits for others. This is a best practice negotiation tactic for anyone, but it carries the added bonus of significantly reducing backlash for women.

4. Discuss collaboratively. If you took a negotiations course at any point, you probably learned integrative negotiations – growing the pie for both parties. That’s what we mean here. Instead of a “you vs me” situation, we can use an “us vs the problem” set up, which enables us to work collaboratively towards a solution – something that women tend to be particularly skilled at.

Do you have other tips for negotiating as a woman? Please share them!

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