If you are familiar with the world of entrepreneurs and start-ups, you’ve probably heard the question, “What’s your unfair advantage?” The idea behind an unfair advantage, at least in business, is that it’s your unique skill or talent that can’t be easily copied or bought.
In negotiation workshops, I’ve often encouraged participants to identify their own unfair advantages as part of the evidence they prepare for making an ask. I’ve received pushback from women, in particular, who have said, “If it’s unfair, why would I use it?” So I would backpedal, clarify and explain using different words.
Recently, I was speaking about negotiation to the Young Professionals Network at She’s The First, a non-profit that provides scholarships to girls in low-income countries. When I brought up the idea of unfair advantage, Perrie Rizzo, She’s The First’s director of resource development, raised her hand and said, “At STF, we call it your superpower.” I love this positive and empowering take on a concept, which I know from experience leaves many people feeling cold and icky. With thanks to STF, that’s the language I now use.
Your superpower is something that comes to you naturally, effortlessly and without the need for justification , like Wonder Woman’s superhuman strength and speed. I’ve since heard from many women that mentally framing the concept in this way helps them embrace and own their strengths rather than rationalize and defend them.
You must be able to identify and articulate your superpowers before they can help you in a negotiation. If you’re not sure what they might be, start by thinking about what qualities come naturally to you. What’s obvious to you that isn’t to other people? If you’re still stuck, ask colleagues or friends who you’re close with to help you brainstorm.
Here are three negotiation superpowers you may already have and how you can use them to achieve your goals.
Empathy is being able to put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes and really imagine how a situation feels from her or his perspective. While this can be especially challenging if you are already in a conflict situation, it is essential. If your mind is made up before you enter a conversation, you’re less likely to come up with creative solutions that will satisfy the needs of both you and your counterpart. Imagine what their priorities, goals, fears and anxieties are and find a way to address them in your offer. Your goal is to make it easy for them to say yes to you. For more on how to summon empathy, Dr. Christine Garcia, a clinical psychologist at UCSF's Department of Psychiatry, shares her strategies — including role-play.
This is your opportunity to capitalize on the concessions you’ve probably already made but have not necessarily gotten credit for. Perhaps you went above and beyond to make sure an important client meeting was successful, or you convinced a key supplier to renew a contract when it was considering cancelling. You can frame your request as asking for something in exchange for something you have already done for your counterpart.
Women are very successful when they negotiate on behalf of others. Frame your request as something that affects or benefits your team or organization as opposed to just you as an individual: think personally, but act communally. One example could be requesting budget to hire a junior associate. Yes, this person would take work off your plate and free up your time to pursue more engaging projects, but he or she would also do the same for others on the team. This elevates your entire group’s productivity and sophistication and benefits the organization as a whole.
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.