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Planning and negotiating: know what you want and ask for it


This is the penultimate week of Diana Bilimoria’s Women in Leadership MOOC, and we are getting to the business end of the course’s career applications. Some of my key takeaways from previous weeks have already touched on the this week’s theme: the additional challenge for women in career negotiations, particularly over pay.

Week 1: Developing your Leadership Identity
Week 2: The State of Women’s Leadership
Week 3: Your Presence as a Leader


Readings this week included a set of articles referring to the issue I raised in last week’s blogpost about the costs for women in seeking to negotiate higher salaries or increased benefits, including (2010) ‘toolkit’ for women seeking to negotiate a raise, a clear summary from the New Yorker of the many penalties that women face for trying to negotiate, and the 2015 Pay Gap report by the American  Association of University Women. 

Professor Bilimoria’s lecture set out some of the key techniques for negotiating, including taken an interests-based approach, looking for common ground, rather than focusing on fixed positions, and going into a negotiation knowing what your best alternative (‘BATNA‘) is. For women, strategies that balance empathy and assertiveness, or focus on both relational and objective goals, tend to work best. Because of course, we must always be seen to be giving, caring, and conciliatory.


The exercise this week was to practice negotiating, either through a role-play with a friend, or through a real-life scenario. I negotiate routinely with quite senior individuals about content they produce. Sometimes, the issues we negotiate are apparently trivial issues of phrasing, which can already put me on the back foot, as I am the one raising them. Nevertheless, it is a relatively low-stakes negotiation for me. My BATNA is that the content remains as they have written it. The only consequence of failing to negotiate the necessary changes is that my senior manager may think me ineffective at negotiating (and the intrinsic dismay at failing to enforce the rules of house style). 

In these situations, the repeated negotiations are all there is. My repertoire goes something like this:

  1. Assess whether I can unilaterally make the changes (i.e. not negotiate and get my position as the outcome). This will usually depend on personalities.
  2. Raise a “question”, to “make sure I understand correctly”. This is a gentle hint that perhaps the content in question is not perfectly worded. The hope is that the person in question will suggest an alternative, or indicate that they’re happy for me to make changes.
  3. “We might suggest…”. I use ‘we’ a lot. I speak for a team of people who do this work. We have agreed guidance, and we should (in theory) all give the same advice based on it. Depending on the tenor of the conversation, I might start here, or I might start with: “The guidance says that…”
  4. “It might help other people understand the context if…”. The person I’m negotiating with and I are on the same team. We both want readers to have the best experience.
  5. “Okay, I understand your point. I will explain it to [senior manager], but he might make changes. Do you want me to come back to you if that happens?” This is the end of the negotiation, at least for the time being. I might be sent back to the individual to try again, or the senior manager might talk to them directly. 
The process is relatively effective. Almost all content that is produced is within our guidance. 
I do find the ending to the negotiation unsatisfactory, though, because it has the air of a threat about it. I think that the writers I am dealing with also find this ending unsatisfactory because it delays the decision about how their content will be published. I think this is their BATNA: that their content will be delayed, and a senior manager might make unilateral changes, or even send them back to the drawing board. I am sure that not wanting to go through the hassle of that process, which often happens much later in the evening, prompts a number of them to follow my advice when they would really rather not!

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