Women Lawyers Need to Hone Their Negotiating Skills

You have heard me say this before, but some things are so fundamental and so important that they need repeating.  Like business development, negotiating is a core competency in our profession, and women must take it seriously and become good at it.  Whether that means you are negotiating for salary, negotiating for benefits, negotiating for work assignments or negotiating on behalf of your client.  You must learn to do it well and not to hold back.

Two women that I know are uniquely positioned to help you with this.  Victoria Pynchon, of Forbes Women She Negotiates and a contributor to my new book coming out in July, and Carol Frohlinger, author of Her Place at the Table and Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It, are women that you need to get to know.  You can do that by following their work.  They will teach you the basic skills of negotiating in a way that will become part of your repertoire and will reap huge benefits down the road.

Victoria Pynchon’s recent article in Forbes Women on line (March 2, 2012) caught my attention.  In that article, she takes issue with the advice of at least one negotiations guru that making a friend of someone with whom you are negotiating is to be avoided.  He posits that social and recreational activities designed to promote collegiality between you and an adversary can be an impediment to effective negotiations.  He sees issues of tarnishing a friendship, hurting an adversary’s feelings and fear of being rejected as things that can interfere with the negotiating process.

My first reaction upon reading this was to wonder whether the guru was speaking to lawyers of substance or to patients on a couch somewhere.  We, women lawyers especially, are uniquely capable of multi-tasking and are able to separate our emotions from our responsibilities very effectively.  Any woman who has raised children knows that you can love them and discipline them and expect good behavior from them at the same time.  You even can love them after they tell you, in a tantrum, that they do not love you.  Likewise, I am confident that we can befriend our professional adversaries and at the same time keep our objectivity at the negotiating table.

Victoria Pynchon agrees for different reasons.  She is a pro at negotiating and has spent most of her professional career doing it.  She has watched the women’s numbers increase in adversarial settings, and she does not buy “the old bromides like old men are better than women at adversarialism because they’d played more team sports than women.”  She was awake during the last century, and she recognizes the effects of Title IX on women’s sports opportunities and experiences.

Victoria does, however, understand that many women do not embrace conflict as much as men.  Her answer is “Don’t Fear Conflict–Master It”, and I totally agree.  Find your own negotiating style and make it work for you.  It may include befriending the other side and creating a trust relationship or it may include more intimidation.  Who is to say what works best for you until you try it on for size and find the perfect fit.

In Her Place at the Table, Carol Frohlinger and her co-authors Deborah Kolb and Judith Wilson, address topics like mobilizing supporters, getting buy-in from a variety of players, and garnering resources to enhance your negotiation skills and get positive results.  This book is worth the read, and I hope you “go to school” on these women authors who speak your language and understand your capabilities.

It all makes sense, really.  You have your own style of dress, your own style of entertaining, your own style of nurturing……and the list goes on.  Now find your own style of negotiating.  Embrace it and reap the benefits.  It sure beats retreating and letting someone else take all the credit or, worse, deciding that you are a force that does NOT have to be reckoned with.

Good luck negotiating.  You actually do it all the time in your personal life—-with your spouse or significant other, with your children, with the guy selling umbrellas on the street corner during an unexpected rainstorm and with the vendor during the summer farm market.  Now is the time to start negotiating for yourself so that you also can negotiate effectively for your clients.

Embrace it, run with it, and see how much fun it can be.


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2 Responses to Women Lawyers Need to Hone Their Negotiating Skills

  1. Susan – thanks for the mention. Your advice to “find your own negotiating style” absolutely hits the mark. We’re negotiating all the time (whether we recognize it or not) so even if the thought of trying to negotiate in a style not your own wasn’t overwhelming, the reality is that it doesn’t work. Nor do the “negotiating rules” – “always do this”, “never do that”. Women lawyers, particularly, engage in complicated negotiations that demand more sophisticated skills and situational adaptability.

    The good news is that our research (and that of others) has shown that women get outcomes as good as their male colleagues when they are negotiating on behalf of others, including clients. The bad news is that many women struggle (for a variety of complicated reasons) when they negotiate for themselves. As you point out, negotiating skills are critical to career success; nobody has more invested in your career than you do!

    Looking forward to your new book.

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