Ask yourself, ‘What are we both looking for?’ Once you get that common ground, then you’re not in conflict anymore.
When Brittany Morrison-Brown, ’11, received an offer for her first out-of-college job, everything sounded great — except the salary and the possible relocation from Raleigh. Brown, a business administration major, thought about what she learned in her coursework at Meredith. She weighed the pros and cons, and she talked it over with mentors at Meredith. She wanted the job, but she also wanted to know that her needs would be met.
First, Brown negotiated an increase in her salary. Then, after thanking the recruiter for the opportunity, she said that she’d accept the offer if she were guaranteed a return to Raleigh after her training.
“When I hung up, my heart was racing,” Brown said. But two minutes later, the phone rang — with a “yes.”
Brown’s racing heart isn’t unusual. But the fact that she negotiated was. Women in particular are hesitant to negotiate, according to Jane Barnes, associate professor of business.
“It’s been shown that women make, on average, about 70 percent of what men do,” said Barnes. “One reason for that is that women are reluctant to negotiate. They are afraid that if they get offered a job and ask for more money, the offer will be taken away.”
Jeff Langenderfer, head of Meredith’s School of Business, puts Brown’s negotiation into perspective: “Almost every employer expects that a prospective employee will negotiate, and they do only 15 to 20 percent of the time.”
Dana Sumner, associate director in Meredith’s Office of Academic and Career Planning, notes that she has never known of an offer being rescinded because someone reasonably asked to negotiate, even if the answer is “no.”
Meredith President Jo Allen sees one reason that women are reluctant to negotiate: “Women are often considered to be poor negotiators because of their perceived tendencies to have difficulty saying ‘no,’ while men have relatively little trouble saying no.”
Perhaps we need to recalibrate our definition of negotiation.
“Negotiation is closely related in many people’s minds to conflict,” Barnes said, “and many people try to avoid conflict.” Rather than approaching negotiation as a battle, Barnes looks at how both parties can get something they want.
And negotiations aren’t just for big-ticket items. According to Langenderfer, negotiating is something that people do every day, even “something as simple as where to go to lunch with a friend.”
Despite these misperceptions and discomfort, negotiation is critical. Said Langenderfer: “If you don’t [negotiate], you’re likely to get the short end of every transaction.”
Barnes and Langenderfer are working to help Meredith students develop negotiation skills. In addition to other courses, Langenderfer teaches Strategies for Effective Negotiation, a graduate-level class in the business school, and Barnes teaches courses for graduate and undergraduate students that, in part, help build negotiation skills.
Not all alumnae can take one of these classes at Meredith. So what can alumnae do to get better at negotiating?
1. Do your homework.
“The key to negotiation is to be prepared and to have done your homework,” Barnes said.
For job-related issues, Sumner encourages alumnae to understand what they have to offer employers. She advises researching salaries in similar locations, fields, organizations and positions, enabling alumnae to make informed decisions about how and what to negotiate.
2. Find common ground.
“Ask yourself, ‘What are we both looking for?’” Barnes said. “Once you get that common ground, then you’re not in conflict anymore.”
Meredith Morovati, ’13 (MBA), has seen firsthand the importance of finding common ground in negotiations. In her job as a vice president at the American Society for Echocardiography, she works with committees across the organization to reach consensus.
“I try to spend a lot of time figuring out what both sides want,” Morovati said.
In her training program with Lenovo, Tierra Morrisey, ’13, negotiates with her colleagues often. She has found that hearing from colleagues has helped the negotiation process: “Everyone needed to be able to voice their opinions.”
3. Take the emotion out of the negotiation.As a real estate agent, Susan Lampley, ’73, helps buyers and sellers negotiate contracts and offers, and she often encounters clients whose emotions cloud the negotiation.
“When I list somebody’s house, I tell them upfront that they need to start detaching themselves from it,” Lampley said.
Morovati said that Langenderfer’s negotiation course helped her take a step back in negotiations: “The class helped me look at negotiation more objectively.”
Langenderfer notes that understanding the context of the negotiation is important: “If you are negotiating for something where there is an ongoing relationship” with another person or a business, such as a job offer or salary increase, “then money is not the only outcome” — a healthy, continuing relationship is also important.
4. Money isn’t the only negotiation point.
Just as Brown negotiated her job location, money isn’t the only thing to consider in job offers or other negotiations.
“I am open to negotiation,” Ashley Parr Henderson, ’97, a photographer in the Raleigh area, said of her price list. Instead of negotiating price, she said, clients often negotiate some other element, such as the number of hours that Henderson stays at an event.
“When they’re thinking about a job offer, people tend to over-focus on salary as the most important element,” Langenderfer said.
Sumner notes that negotiating could also include start dates or vacation days.
5. If negotiation isn’t second nature, you’re in good company.
Even expert negotiators don’t necessarily enjoy the process. Yet negotiating isn’t something you need to enjoy. Rather, it’s something that Meredith alumnae should feel as if they have the right to do.
“If you don’t seize that opportunity [to negotiate],” Brown said, “someone else will.”
For those alumnae who could use some practice negotiating, Langenderfer suggests a visit to the closest flea market. “Offer half price and aim for three quarters,” he said. “It’s a low-stress environment, and if you end up walking away, it’s no big deal.”
Barnes suggests starting small, such as deciding what TV show your family might watch, as a way to practice. Overall, Barnes said, stay flexible. “Look at the negotiation outcome as what you’ve gained, not what you’ve lost.”
Brown said that negotiating for her first job gave her confidence: “Moving forward in my career, I feel more confident talking about what is challenging me, what will help me grow in my career.”
President Allen believes that Meredith is well-positioned to help current and future students develop these skills: “All of this comes back to what Meredith College does best: helping students build on their strengths to reach their goals.”
Need more help with your negotiation skills?
Alumnae have lifetime access to support and information at the Office of Academic and Career Planning. Call (919) 760-8341 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Meredith Magazine.