Women, when you’re negotiating salary, business contracts, departmental budgets, auto purchases and the like, figure out a way to imagine yourself as negotiating on behalf of others and not just for yourself.
If you’re negotiating salary, frame it as negotiating on behalf of your family. If you’re negotiating a new car purchase for yourself, frame it as bargaining on behalf of your elderly mom, for whom you run errands on weekends. If you’re negotiating a business contract, frame it as negotiating on behalf of your division or organization.
I’ve been advising women to imagine themselves negotiating on behalf of someone else for years — even when negotiating primarily for themselves. And many, many have reported back that this approach works. Why does it matter so much?
Because it’s a myth that men outperform women in negotiation.
Because with salary, it can make the difference of more than half a million dollars in income over the course of one executive woman’s career.
Because while women tend to outperform men in certain negotiation situations, we do tend to perform less well in distributive negotiations like those listed above, where men tend to emerge with better outcomes. It’s not new news that women typically outperform men in negotiations involving advocacy for others or that men tend to outperform women in negotiations where self-advocacy is important.
Because, it turns out (perhaps unsurprisingly to we women), when we’re in distributive bargaining situations, we’re actually negotiating two things at the same time: The thing we want (salary, budget, car) and social approval arising from gender role expectations.
In research by a Columbia Business School doctoral student (now a professor at University of Texas at Austin) and her professor, published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Pyschology and now in the news again, they found
…while women fare worse economically than men in many distributive negotiations, including salary negotiations, women do not lack the capability or motivation to bargain effectively. Instead, women are simultaneously negotiating social approval in light of gender role expectations and hence hedge their assertiveness in some contexts, such as when bargaining for themselves. They do not hedge or do worse when bargaining on behalf of others, a context where assertive negotiation reads as caring and therefore consistent with the feminine gender role.
…Results of the current study support the argument that women negotiating economic outcomes in the workplace are simultaneously “negotiating” social approval, hedging their assertiveness in contexts where it could be seen as running afoul of gender expectations. Other experiments…suggest that their concerns are not paranoid — observers are more likely to form negative impressions of a self–advocating negotiator if the negotiator is female rather than male.
Get clear on who else you’re advocating for before you walk into the negotiation. Keep their image in your mind. Heck, put a photo of their smiling face on the inside of your manila folder or on the swipe screen of your phone if you have to. It matters.