Ask Alto : What are collaborative negotiation tactics, and why do women need to know about them?

October 24, 2022
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When Kathryn Valentine was an MBA intern at a Fortune 500 company, she tried negotiating her way into a job. Twelve minutes into the interview she was told that she wasn’t a good fit for the company culture. She did not get the job.

What went wrong? She had spent a whole weekend doing research, writing a script and practising with her roommate. Valentine, who now runs a training company called Worthmore Strategies, says she has since learned that negotiations are highly gendered spaces, with women at more risk of negative outcomes, particularly if they use tactics that go against gender stereotypes. “Most of the information out there… is given as if it is good advice for everyone. I was using advice that was created for men.”

What should she have done instead?

Valentine now recommends using collaborative negotiation techniques. She asks why we continue to assume that employee-employer negotiations must be zero sum, where whatever the employee gains, the employer loses. “Employee-employer negotiations are particularly well suited to be integrative discussions… in which you can set the conversation up to be an ‘us vs. the problem’ discussion, rather than a ‘you vs. me’ deliberation.”

What is collaborative (or integrative) negotiation?

There are nuances to the kinds of negotiation that would work well for women.

Collaborative negotiation (also called constructive, principled or interest-based negotiation) treats the “relationship” as an important and valuable element of what’s at stake. Close cousin integrative negotiation (or integrative bargaining, interest-based bargaining or win-win bargaining) is a negotiation strategy in which the involved parties work together to find a solution that satisfies the needs and concerns of each. Compromising and bargaining is common in integrative negotiation, and both sides may need to give up certain needs to reach a solution.

In all these kinds of negotiation, transparency is paramount, because only then can everyone reach a comprehensive understanding of the issue and what each party needs for them to be satisfied with the result.

Examples of negotiating collaboratively

Valentine gives two examples:

A company’s leadership team meeting is held on Monday evenings at 6pm – which just doesn’t work for the only woman on the team, who has a small child at home who is typically fed and put to bed between 6 and 7:30. First, she asks why the meeting is held at 6pm. The answer: “It’s always been like that, we need data from the Monday morning reports, but those are done by noon.” The woman then says: “I wondered if we could explore moving it to Monday afternoon, say, 3pm? Our company has evolved to be much more supportive of families, and this change would be aligned with those values. What do you think?” The meeting is moved and everything goes just fine.

And what about someone who wants additional administrative support. She could say, “I’m working crazy hours and I need a new assistant”, but that’s all about her. Instead, she puts her team at the centre of the request: “This year my team was able to outperform the company average by 10%. I believe we can double that next year but would need additional administrative headcount so we can focus on the highest value items.”

Top tips

Professor Allison Elias at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business recommends these strategies:

  • Shift from win-lose to win-win. Move from a focus on winning to a focus on information gathering, brainstorming, relationship-building and proposing possibilities.
  • Negotiation is a skill, not a gift. Understand that negotiation is a competency that can be learned and developed. Elias recommends women deliberately seek out opportunities to negotiate: This will help build self-efficacy, which in turn can lessen anxiety.
  • Craft the message. Research shows that women are less assertive when they are negotiating in their own interest, but significantly more forceful when they are advocating and bringing forward the interests of others. To bolster feelings of power and assertiveness in the negotiation setting, Elias recommends thinking about ways to pair personal strengths and abilities with a more communal concern about the needs and challenges of other parties.
  • “Shape” the conversation. Research shows that women who secure leadership positions typically use “bending” or “shaping” strategies in career advancement. In other words, these are women who make proposals or suggestions that might go beyond the immediate or obvious scope of the negotiation – and that can entail better outcomes for both parties. An example is taking on more responsibility as a way to streamline operations. Key here is thinking through and articulating the benefits to you, to your team and to your wider organisation.