In A Negotiation, Don't Just Say What They Want To Hear

If you’ve been in a negotiation and felt like saying what you really thought would automatically disqualify you from the opportunity you’re discussing, you’re not alone. Saying what they want to hear and hoping they buy it is not the only way.

I’ve been there, and many women I know have, too. I recently worked with a client who had just resigned from a full time position in order to start her own content business. Around the same time, she’d been aggressively recruited for a full time editorial role at a major retailer. The job would provide not only a competitive salary, but also the kind of resources and creative freedom that she’d long wished for at previous companies. And it would require her to relocate, though she was hoping to avoid moving.

They’d already signaled that they were open to compromising on location, and now she was going to ask to come on as a contractor rather than full time. She was afraid to ask for too much.

Her concern was that no matter how she spun it, all she really wanted to do was start her own business, and this job would just get in her way. On the other hand, it seemed like too good to pass on without at least trying to make it work.

“I don’t want them to feel like I’m pulling a fast one on them,” she said.

As women, we are socialized to wait for permission. Men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the stated criteria, women apply for jobs when they meet 100%. Women are more likely to negotiate when the job description says “negotiable,” whereas men will negotiate no matter what. We listen to the nagging voice in our heads that doubts our judgement and worries whether what we’re asking for is too much. This is where cultivating a negotiation mindset can help.

I challenged my client to approach the situation from a creative problem solving standpoint. Could she look at her situation from another, more positive, angle? It sounded to me like she was moving along with her plans to start her own business when this opportunity came up, and it was so compelling that it gave her pause and made her reconsider her next move. They clearly thought she could add value to their team — they had recruited her and were willing to let her work remotely — so they might prefer to bring her on board as a contractor rather than go through a whole new search.


It’s natural to think first about your own priorities and position. But part of the negotiation mindset is thinking earnestly about the issues from your counterpart’s point of view. What are their top priorities and challenges, and how can you work together to find a solution that works for both of you? Thinking about “me vs. them” is where you’ll miss opportunities to create value. If you don’t know what their perspective is, it’s as simple as asking questions until you understand where they’re coming from. They’ll appreciate your willingness to listen, and you’ll likely get a better deal as a result of the conversation.

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.

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Alexandra Dickinson

Alexandra Dickinson is the CEO and founder of Ask For It, a boutique consulting company working to close the gender wage gap by effecting change at both the institutional and individual level. We work with companies, schools, organizations and individuals through a combination of trainings, workshops and consulting. Our goal is for women and men to be paid based on their talents and skills, regardless of gender, and for our company to have been an important part of that change.