3 Strategies To Change Implicit Biases In A Negotiation


You’re preparing for an upcoming negotiation. You’ve done some research and benchmarking and you know what you’re planning to ask for. Hopefully, you’ve even thought about your counterpart’s point of view and are ready to anticipate their needs.

But have you considered how implicit bias — your counterpart’s, as well as your own — might affect your outcomes?

At a recent event hosted by the Women’s Insights on the art of Negotiation (WIN) Summit, Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida, the director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University, shared some insights into what exactly implicit bias is, and what changes we can make as individuals to become aware of biases, and ultimately, change them.

According to Fisher-Yoshida, “When someone has implicit bias, it means they show preferences of which they aren’t consciously aware. We make associations without being aware we are doing it. These are based on stereotypies, our experiences and influence from others, and they are typically judgmental — even if our explicit explanations say otherwise.”

Biases are mental shortcuts that influence our preferences, what we pay attention to and create deeply embedded attitudes. Gender stereotypes about women (likable, nurturing, non-assertive) and men (competent, aggressive, protective) play a large role in influencing negotiation outcomes. Unconscious bias is especially pernicious because it’s not always easy to identify.

In a negotiation, “understanding the implicit biases of both parties can help you make sense of contradictions between spoken words and actions taken,” said Fisher-Yoshida.

Fisher-Yoshida offered three strategies individuals can make to override their own biases when preparing for a negotiation:

1. Scan our own biases about our self and others.

We can change our own implicit biases by checking our assumptions and changing the stories we tell ourselves. Start by noticing your thought patterns.

“This goes to the core of self-awareness,” said Fisher-Yoshida. “Whatever you’re engaged in, always think, ‘What’s my role in this? How did I get involved in this, and what’s the role I want it to be?’ When you’re facing a conflict, remember that we all co-create our situations. If something is not working out, what can I do to change it? What have I done to help create this? It gives you a sense of agency: if I helped create it, I can help change it.”

2. Scan biases from the other party.

Ask yourself how you are being perceived. What signs can you observe about the other person’s behavior, and what can you do to overcome them so they don’t get in your way?

This is, of course, not as simple as it sounds, and sometimes there is no easy answer. One strategy I like is calling out the elephant in the room and making light of it. If you think you’re being too easily dismissed because you’re a woman, you could try saying something like, “I don’t know how many women you’ve had walk into your office and ask for a raise, but there’s a first time for everything!” This is a pragmatic approach rather than an ideal one, but if it gets the job done and makes space for you to create change, I think it’s worth trying.

3. Slow down the process.

“It’s better to slow down the negotiation than react too quickly without giving ourselves a chance to process what’s going on,” said Fisher-Yoshida.

If you find yourself being pressured into agreeing to a deal when you haven’t had a chance to think it through, don’t give in. The trick is being self-aware enough to realize how you’re feeling before you commit to anything. If you’re in the same physical room with someone, try creating a physical break by getting up to use the restroom or get a glass of water. You can step out to gather your thoughts, and when you return, suggest reconvening another day. In a phone or email negotiation, you can simply say, “I need another day to reflect on this.”

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.


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.