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Negotiating skills for today’s business leaders

Sreedhari DesaiWhen Sreedhari Desai asked attendees of the Carolina Women in Business conference how many of them were comfortable negotiating, few hands went up.

Many women don’t know negotiating is an option or are uncomfortable negotiating out of fear of rejection, losing a relationship or concerns about self-esteem, said Desai, an organizational behavior professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Desai presented “Negotiation Skills for Today’s Business Leaders” at the eighth annual Carolina Women in Business conference Nov. 8.

Desai cited research that shows employers find job-offer negotiations acceptable. In a survey of employers, 100 percent said such negotiations were acceptable; 90 percent said that that their initial offer is less than they are willing to provide; and 80 percent said that a candidate who negotiates professionally makes a better impression than someone who accepts a job without negotiating.

“We have been negotiating really well in some domains of our lives but not so well, perhaps in the professional sphere,” Desai said.

Desai demystifies negotiating. One myth is that negotiators are born. Desai cited research that found personality traits are not as predictive of negotiation outcomes as one might expect. “The situation often seems to have the upper hand,” Desai said.

Another myth is that experience is a great teacher for negotiation. Getting good feedback in negotiation situations is difficult, Desai said, those women negotiate with are not typically forthcoming with tips to help with improvement. Women also tend to seek confirmation instead of learning from mistakes, Desai said.

Desai outlined five techniques to improve negotiating skills.

  • Prepare. Figure out what you want to negotiate and conduct a comparative analysis so you can make a good argument.
  • Build a rapport with the person you’re negotiating with. Don’t be too friendly, though, because you are doing business. “None of that excessive head nodding,” Desai said.
  • Mind your body language. Sit up straight and make eye contact.
  • Expect and anticipate resistance and deal with it professionally. If someone shows signs of anger, deal with them like a toddler and try to diffuse the situation.
  • Be patient.

Research shows women are good when negotiating on behalf of others, but bad when negotiating on their own behalf, said Desai. She encouraged women to take more credit when they are responsible for successful projects and performances.

“Put the ‘I’ back in ‘team,’” Desai said.