Let’s say you’re on the short list for a promotion with your company. A big promotion. If you get it you’ll take on far more responsibility and you definitely feel up to the challenge. But the salary attached to the job is a little well, lackluster—especially in light of your experience. You’d love to ask for more money but frankly, you’re afraid to. The economy still isn’t great so I’d better lie low, you reason. No, it’s not what I was hoping for, but if I get too pushy I’m sure they’ll pass me over for one of the other candidates. I should just be grateful to have made the cut.
If you’re like many women, this just seems like common sense. But according to Vickie Milazzo, settling for less than you’re worth is a big mistake—even in the wake of the Great Recession. In fact, it might even cost you the job.
“When I’m hiring, I actually weed out candidates who underprice themselves because I assume they won’t perform at the level I expect,” shares Milazzo, author of the new book Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman. “In my eyes and in the eyes of many other CEOs, job candidates actually lose credibility when they underprice themselves.
“Many women mistakenly think they’re doing their employers a favor by not pushing for more or that they’ll be more appealing if they don’t ask for what they’re worth,” she adds. “The bad economy might be the current excuse, but I believe most underpricing occurs because many women just aren’t comfortable with negotiating.”
In fact, a recent article in The New Yorker, might prove Milazzo’s theory right. It found that only 7 percent of women negotiate their salaries up-front when entering a new position…compared to 57 percent of men.
“Those statistics are pretty telling,” Milazzo comments. “And I want them to change. Women can and do negotiate all the time outside the workplace—with spouses, with kids, with teachers, with friends—and we can do it in a professional setting, too. It’s just a matter of changing the way you think about asking for money.”
If you’re ready to stop sitting back and start negotiating like you mean it, read on for nine of Milazzo’s tried-and-true tips.
• Never let them see you as a commodity. After all, commodities are easy to obtain and easy to replace. And that’s certainly not how you want to be perceived at your job—whether you’re an employee, a leader, or an entrepreneur. After all, if the people you’re working with know that others share your skill set, they won’t have any reason to pay the price you’re asking for. They’ll be in control, not you. From Day One, do everything you can to ensure that you aren’t seen as interchangeable or dispensable.
“Don’t shrink into your chair and become the invisible employee,” Milazzo urges. “Do what you need to do to stand out. Get in the middle of everything and bring new ideas to the table. Build relationships throughout the company. If you’re able to make yourself invaluable and leverage the things that make you unique, you’ll also make yourself impossible to replace. And when that happens, you’ll be in control of your own price.”
• Distinguish ambition from greed. Prior to launching yourself into a negotiation, it’s a good idea to take a step back and ask yourself why you’re working toward this particular goal. For example, say you’ve been in your current position for two and a half years without a significant raise, and you think your skills are worth much more. Before you march into your boss’s office, ask yourself: Why do I want a raise? Do I just want more money, or am I honestly interested in advancing in this company?
“It’s very important to distinguish ambition from greed,” Milazzo insists. “Wanting more money isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it can get you into trouble if your quest for cash mires you deeper in a commitment you’re not passionate about or causes you to ignore opportunities that might be ideally suited to your strengths and interests. Always make sure you’re negotiating for the right reasons. I’m ambitious and competitive, but I’ve left very large sums on the table because the opportunity wasn’t something I was passionate about. And I haven’t regretted those decisions once.”
• Be your own number one fan. It can be hard for women to toot their own horns. To a certain extent, we’re actually wired to nurture and care for others and to put the good of the whole over our own personal interests. While these impulses aren’t inherently bad, it’s time for a newsflash: if you don’t announce your own achievements, you can bet that no one else is going to do it for you. With humility, make sure that you’re keeping your name, your accomplishments, and your skill set in front of everyone.
“Have you ever noticed that women tend to downplay their accomplishments, while men routinely highlight their achievements and use them to advance?” Milazzo asks. “Recall the stat on men and women making salary negotiations when they’re hired. Clearly, we females need to take a page from the male playbook and make sure that we’re getting the recognition and credit we’ve earned. If you still have doubts, consider that announcing your accomplishments validates the investments others have made in you. Your boss, for example, wants to know that she bet on a winner when she hired you!”
• Ask for everything at the beginning of the negotiation. This can also be a difficult strategy for women to adopt. We don’t want to come on too strong or appear to be overly aggressive, so we don’t put all of our cards on the table at the beginning of negotiations. We tell ourselves that we’ll get the other person used to the idea gradually. But especially in business, adding on as you go along generally isn’t a good idea because it makes you appear unfair.
“Consider this situation,” Milazzo asks. “If, for example, you tell a prospect your consulting fee is $150 per hour and his reply is, ‘That’s very reasonable,’ you can’t jump in and say, ‘Well, but what I really want is $175 per hour.’ Think through what you want before you sit down to negotiate. Prepare the list of points you must have and the points you’re willing to give up. Remember that some people do keep score, so being able to track what you really need helps you let the other party win points as you score big.”
• Ask for more than you think you can get. Remember the old adage: nothing risked, nothing gained. Don’t jump too fast to say yes to the first offer, even if you think it’s fair. It’s always smart to assess the situation, the person making the offer, and how far you might be able to go before signing your name on the dotted line. Chances are, if your request for more is denied, you’ll still be left with the initial offer.
“If this sounds like greed, it’s not,” Milazzo clarifies. “Asking for more than you think you can get is part of being a strong negotiator. You have to be your own advocate! I remember mentoring an entrepreneur whose client wanted to pay her a flat rate for a project. However, the project involved a lot of moving parts, and a flat fee could end up costing her instead of making her a profit. Despite this woman’s fears that she’d lose the project altogether unless she agreed to her client’s unfavorable terms, I encouraged her to stand firm and insist on an hourly fee. She did—and got what she asked for!”
• Appear detached (even when you’re not). Unfortunately, many people won’t hesitate to exploit a weakness if you let them see it. When you negotiate from a place of fear or desperation, your ability to be rational will be impaired…and you’ll also be susceptible to agreeing to unfavorable terms; in other words, anything to save the deal! If, despite your best efforts, you’re unable to banish your emotions, make an effort to appear detached.
“I remember an especially pivotal day for my own business,” Milazzo recalls. “I was sitting with an attorney-prospect, and I was scared that he wouldn’t hire me. Then I realized that if this man said no, there were a million more potential clients out there. This insight gave me the ability to detach when negotiating. One attorney wouldn’t make or break my business, but entering into bad deals because I was too caught up in making a deal certainly would.”
• Negotiate with the person, not the power. Unless your name happens to be listed on a FORTUNE list entitled “50 Most Powerful Women,” at some point or another you’ll probably find yourself negotiating with a more powerful party—whether it’s your boss, your boss’s boss, or another organization. When that happens, don’t make the mistake of assuming that your bargaining power is weak just because you’re at a lower level in the company hierarchy or because your business is smaller than theirs. Yes, this power imbalance might make negotiating more challenging, but you have a lot to offer, too.
“Remember that ultimately, you’re talking to another human being,” Milazzo reminds. “Try not to become so overawed by rank or position that you forget that! I have rewritten entire contracts with companies much bigger than mine—companies who claimed I had to sign their offer ‘as is’—by remembering that I was ultimately dealing with other people, not with a faceless corporation. I have learned that everything is negotiable, so if you have something to offer, go ahead and negotiate!”
• Never talk off the record. When you’re negotiating for something you want, make sure you only go public with information you’re comfortable with the other party knowing.
“Never tip your hand,” Milazzo insists. “You may think that saying to a colleague, ‘Just between you and me, I’m asking to spearhead the new project, but I’d settle for just being on the team,’ will stay between the two of you. Maybe it will—but maybe it won’t. If you let others know that you’ll settle for something, you risk ending up with that instead of with what you really want—or worse, even less.”
• Never let yourself be bullied.Women who aren’t used to negotiating are especially susceptible to being intimidated by a show of force—but even veteran businesswomen can be taken aback by unexpected aggression or resistance! If you find yourself in this situation, remind yourself (once again) that you are dealing with another human being and that you have something valuable to offer. Don’t be afraid to demand respect. And if you consistently don’t get it, well, it might be time to rethink whether you want to work with the other party in the first place.
“I’ve worked with plenty of attorneys, met some tough negotiators, and seen many different negotiation styles,” Milazzo says. “When I’m up against a pit bull, I’ll take a walk and role-play with my husband Tom, who can be a pit-bull himself. I anticipate every possible objection and get myself into a Zen-like state. When it comes time to negotiate for real, I am centered and ready. I know that if I allow myself to be intimidated or provoked instead of remaining calm and professional, the negotiations are destined to fail.”
Now you might be thinking, That’s all well and good…but times really are tough and money really is in short supply. So no matter how great a negotiator I might be, does it really matter if the money just isn’t there?
“Yes, times are difficult for many right now and your odds of getting what you want at work might not be as high as they were five years ago,” Milazzo concedes. “But why give up before you even start? What’s to be gained from that? I believe it’s better to ask and not receive than to not ask and to meekly settle for less than you deserve.”
“Besides, it’s when times are hard that raw talent and know-how really count,” she adds. “Right now, more than ever, you deserve to get paid what you’re worth. Don’t let anyone—including yourself—forget just how much you’re bringing to the table.”