Negotiating salaries or pay rates can be a painful process, especially for women who aren't used to speaking up. In her new book, Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want, Selena Rezvani argues that negotiating is necessary and details how to do so with confidence. A frequent speaker on women and leadership, Rezvani also founded the Women's Roadmap, a consulting firm that specializes in building corporate women's initiatives. Excerpts from U.S. News's interview with Rezvani:
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Why do you think people, especially women, struggle so much with negotiating?
I think it's unique for women, and one of the chief reasons is this belief that relationships should trump agenda. I think many of us are conditioned and raised to be accommodating, to be kind, to be gentle, not to advocate for what we want, and not to push for the unpopular position.
Another reason is a difference in the way men and women take risks. It's been noted in research that women tend to round down in terms of their candidacy for something—how ready they are for a promotion, lets say, and men continually tend to round up in terms of what they're able to do. I see that play out with negotiation because sometimes there's this desire for a guaranteed outcome or perfection. Perfectionist thinking doesn't even get us to the negotiation table or makes us ask for way too little.
What do you potentially lose by not negotiating?
Well, it can be devastating financially. Most people tend to think about what they're losing right now, and how that might be hurting their lifestyle or how they can provide for their family right now. Yes, that's important, but most people don't project into the future and think about retirement. That makes a big difference.
It also matters for women, because more than half of all marriages end in divorce, and there is still some reliance among some of us to let men take care of the bills or the savings. With that kind of divorce rate, combined with the fact that women live longer than men, we're the ones left holding the bag. It really behooves us to be empowered and take control of our finances. Negotiating is one way we can do that.
Your book covers how to psychologically prepare for negotiations. Could you give us some insight into that process?
There are some different ways we can psychologically prepare. One of them is sitting down and purposefully taking inventory of your successes. Not just to help with the ask you're about to make, and prove your case in that way, but literally to psych yourself up. A lot of women can benefit from this, just from staying in a place of, "oh, I have a lot to contribute" or "I did bring in 5 percent new revenue last year." I encourage women who have trouble with self-promotion to keep in mind [that] if it's true, it's not bragging. Keep it fact-based, and it won't be quite so difficult.
One of the other things that can be huge is role-playing the Q and A with somebody and asking them to maybe be kind of neutral the first time with you and to become increasingly more difficult, to really push back and poke at your argument. And it's amazing what that can do to prepare you. I find it can really help you be unflappable on game day because you're used to that feeling of being pushed back, you have some comebacks, and you are ready to preempt objections you think you might hear.
There's one other thing that can be huge for women, and I don't see a lot of people do this. When you have an important negotiation coming up, it's so important to confer with your network. If it's someone who negotiated with that person before or just a former colleague of that person that knows them well, they can give you insight into their style or approach. I actually interviewed one woman for my book and she said, "I did this before a really critical negotiation, and my friend said to me, 'Linda, interrupt the guy in the first five minutes, and he'll take it as a sign of power on your part.'" And, of course, she did it, and it worked.
What would you say to someone who's concerned that she might seem demanding or that the economy is still uncertain?
There is some validity to it, so I don't dismiss it offhandedly. Besides knowing if you are over-delivering, you would want to know, "how is my company doing financially?" If your company is kind of sick and hurting, then no, I am not going to encourage you to go and ask for a raise even if you're doing everything right. I do think there are some realities to the job market.
However, there is a lot of brand new research in 2012 showing us that more employees than ever have confidence that they'll be getting raises this year and that more employers plan to hand them out. People are getting more comfortable, they are more willing to pay based on merit, and I think if anything, there's less of a trend toward treating every employee and rewarding every employee the same exact way.
You interviewed several successful female executives for you book. Was there anything that surprised you?
Those interviews were great because they included people's mistakes, and that always makes for a better interview than just your most shining moments. But there was a data point that I found pretty compelling. When I asked the women that quantitative question: "Assuming a woman's career success equals 100 percent, what percentage of that is made up by her effectiveness at pushing back?" I was happily surprised to hear such an affirmative answer, but on average, the women said that 60 percent of a woman's success hinges on being a good self advocate. Yes, technical skills and your academic pedigree manner, and so do people skills. But if a woman doesn't have command of her own voice, she's not going to go very far.
I think that is going to be especially important for the youngest women who aren't necessarily that happy with the American workplace and find it too rigid, that you can't work from anywhere at most companies today. I think for those young women, if they want to see change, they're going to have to be very good at negotiating and showing why it should be done another way.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I'm amazed how many people tell me about something that they don't like, like let's say a policy at work, and if I ask them, "Well why don't you negotiate that?" They'll often say, "Because that's the way it's done."
I think there's something that might be cultural for Americans that we might not like about asking for special treatment. It makes a request suddenly about deservedness, whereas in other cultures, it's more common to negotiate. But I think that we shouldn't be too married to "is there a precedent or not?" Challenge it! Who cares if no one's done it before?