One Lean In Tip Women/Graduates Should Reconsider

There is no such thing as a negotiation or conflict strategy good for all occasions.  To the extent that people can work collaboratively, there are several benefits.  Among them is the tendency for people to stick to a solution that they’ve been involved in creating.  There’s the additional benefit of people going away from the interaction feeling a greater sense of satisfaction than had the two sides not worked together.  But, as discussed in a Big Think blog,  it’s risky to rely heavily on a particular communication or negotiation strategy as every situation is different.

That’s why when reading Lean In recommendations for graduates, I cringed at the general advice that women are expected to be collaborative and so they should use that approach to their benefit.  Tip 3:  Negotiate — Wisely! starts with a reference to an unnamed “recent” research study indicating that women in their first year out of college were paid eighty-two cents for every dollar paid to male counterparts.  The people reading this tip are college graduates or about to be ones, so they should know which study and also that it’s important to name your sources as there are a variety of findings about pay differences, including by career type.  It also enhances credibility if the source is a sound one.

But let’s put that aside for the moment.  The next paragraph rightly encourages women to consider stereotypes when they negotiate.  Absolutely.  Then we read:

We expect men to be assertive and look out for themselves, so there’s little downside when they advocate on their own behalf. In contrast, we expect women to be communal and collaborative, so when they advocate for themselves, we—both men and women—often react unfavorably.

Again, generally accurate.  Although men need to vary their strategies or they face a downside. But, it’s the advice that follows with which I have a problem after years of studying and teaching negotiation.

One strategy to combat this is to use communal language; women get better results when they emphasize a concern for organizational relationships. For example, you might say, “If I join the team, I will do my best to contribute to its success. It’s important that my salary reflects the education and skills that will enable me to do this.” Another way to demonstrate a connection to others is to ground the negotiation in gender pay issues: “Given that women are generally paid less than men, we would both be disappointed if I didn’t negotiate for myself.”

Fortunately, on this page, being communal and collaborative is described as “one strategy.” And sometimes arguments like these can be useful.  But, the advice does not mention that there will be many situations where taking this approach is just what the people you’re dealing with want — because it is seen as a weakness to them.

With people like this, it’s better to assert that your work is outstanding, present emails/letters of support and compliment for this from people they hold in high regard or whose opinions matter to them, and measurable indicators of your success.

There’s much to be said for the tips given to graduates and women in general from Lean In.  But this one needs to be revised.  You have to know with whom you’re negotiating and what is persuasive to them.  You need to do your homework, have the data to demonstrate your success, share comparative salaries received by people (usually not named) doing the same or a lesser level of work.  It’s important to know what you’ll do if you receive a “no” response.

Stay away from the word “disappointed,” as it’s about feelings and in business being disappointed happens a lot.  Feelings can be relevant, but choose carefully which ones you share.  As I wrote in They Don’t Get It, Do They? – something still true today -mentioning feelings is an invitation to the other party to talk about those instead of your issue.  The same is true of fairness.  If they don’t care about it, don’t use it to support your argument.

Key issues in salary negotiations, among others, are what you deserve, what you’ve accomplished (when possible based on written job expectations), how widely your success has been noticed, by which people at high levels, and exactly what is going to be done about it short and long term.

It’s important that women know whether they’re already too collaborative.  If so, you may make yourself look weak to a person who thinks in terms of power.  You’re also predictable and thus easily manipulated.

We all need a spectrum of strategies for negotiation and persuasion.  Every situation differs and going with the flow with too much collaboration just because it’s expected of women can be a good way to drown your career.


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