If "Nice" is Not a Negotiation Strategy, What Is?

As everyone in academics and the mainstream media has been reporting, the two greatest obstacles to women asking for and getting what they deserve in business and the professions are their reluctance to self-serve and the social sanctions imposed on them when they do.  The most recent example of this type of mainstream coverage appeared in a New Yorker blog last week warning women about the dangers of negotiating

As a side note, please remember that the "danger" inherent in women negotiating to impasse is that they might make less money or accrue less power to themselves. When men negotiate to impasse, we generally get physical violence or all-out war. See e.g., all of human history.

As we've too often said, self-serving not only challenges women’s internal cultural barriers (I’m supposed to be generous, self-sacrificing, kind, pliant, deferential and supportive) it crosses the gender expectations of others, leading them to harshly criticize women’s ambitious career moves when they wouldn’t take exception to the identical behavior in a man.

Value Creating Negotiation as a Way of Life

The mission of She Negotiates – to end the income and leadership gender gap – will not be achieved by women finding new ways to hide their ambition – simultaneously manipulating greater rewards for themselves while pretending they’re not doing so.

Women don't like doing that because one of our highest values is authenticity.

The good news is that authenticity is one of the most powerful mutual benefit negotiation tactics. Just as we've earlier warned women that being "nice" or "relentlessly pleasant" is not a negotiation strategy but a tactic (ingratiation) so are all the other sometimes useful "tactics" such as curiosity, warmth, tit for tat, log rolling, small talk and the like.

Mutual benefit negotiation is not a trick.

It’s a discipline, a state of mind, a practice, a way of looking at the world. It requires commitment to a principle and not simply a set of techniques. This isn’t just my opinion nor simply my experience. It’s been proven in the lab by many social scientists and negotiation experts, including one of the authors of the must-read Negotiation Genius.

In Getting More Out of Analogical Training in Negotiations, Harvard Business School Professor and Negotiation Genius co-author Max Bazerman warned that people who learn value-creating “interest-based” or mutual benefit negotiation skills as discrete techniques, “have great difficulty transferring th[ose] skills to new tasks.”  Perhaps more importantly, if you train people in a single skill like log-rolling, they’ll tend to apply that skill in novel situations where it does more harm than good.

The key is not technique but general negotiation principles (such as, ‘value can be created,’ or ‘it is important to understand how parties’ interests interrelate’). Although everyone falls prey to the “two secrets” or “ten tips” for getting a raise this year, it’s better to change your point of view than it is to apply a set of new rules to an old situation.

It’s Just a Conversation Leading to Agreement

When you begin to look at negotiation as a conversation that seeks to create mutual benefit for all parties, i.e., a mutual problem to be solved rather than a strategy to win, you can intelligently and strategically choose those negotiation strategies or tactics that are best suited to the problem at hand. 

In academic-speak, a change in attitude toward the negotiation enterprise, “facilitates successful transfer to a broader range of new negotiation situations and enhances the ability to implement diverse value-creating strategies, including ones never previously encountered.”

How Do I Do That?

The first step to a successful mutual-benefit negotiation style is to stop thinking about give and take as a zero-sum game. In that game, what I win, you lose and what you lose, I win. That’s the adversarial legal process reduced to two words – zero sum. It’s also every board game you ever played from Candy Land to Words With Friends.

Sure, it’s fun to win and there are those of us for whom its so much fun, we make our living out of the effort. As a litigator and trial attorney, I didn’t even want to know how to negotiate better because negotiation meant compromise and I didn’t want to compromise.

I. Wanted. To. Win.

When I finally got bored with that (30 years! later) I found collaborative, problem solving, dispute resolution to offer far greater rewards, much deeper personal satisfaction, and an intellectual challenge equal to or better than the game of winning substantive legal issues with litigation strategies designed to bring the other side to its knees.

Once you start seeing any potential conflict (I want more money, for instance, which presumably is in conflict with your employer’s desire to pay you less or your clients' or customers' desire to pay you less for your services or products) as a problem to be solved rather a game to be won, you immediately begin to uncover opportunities for mutual gain. And when you lead by offering the benefit rather than asking for the concession, you side-step that messy gender problem.

It’s not a trick. It’s a way of life. Join us!