Negotiating Like a Pro

Negotiating Like a Pro

By Megan Dalla-Camina, Women Rising Founder & CEO

Imagine this scenario: Jane, an accomplished project manager, is sitting across from her boss during her annual review. She has led successful projects throughout the year, earned the respect of her team, and exceeded her performance targets.

She knows she deserves a raise and promotion. Yet as she sits there, with her achievements laid out on the table, she hesitates. She grapples with the dilemma of advocating for herself or maintaining the status quo, afraid to be seen as 'pushy' or 'self-serving'.

Jane's story is far from unique. We see this exact dilemma hundreds of times in every cohort of the Women Rising program. Women who have proven their competence and earned their stripes, but when it comes to negotiating for their worth, societal norms and expectations create a complex 'double bind' (more on this below).

Women are inherently capable of assertive negotiation, but the challenges they face often lie in overcoming external biases in the workplace as well as internal self-perceptions (the 'inner critic'). These challenges can significantly influence their negotiation behaviour and outcomes.

As we delve into this topic, let's remember that the art of negotiation is not solely about winning, it's about communication, collaboration, and creating win-win situations for all parties involved. And women, with their capacity for empathy, active listening, and problem-solving, are uniquely positioned to excel in these areas. The goal is to transform these existing strengths into assertive communication and negotiation skills so that you can advocate effectively for yourself and help other women do the same. Let's explore how.


It makes sense that assertive communication is the foundation of successful negotiations. The Harvard Kennedy School found that women can outperform men when they negotiate for others, a testament to their innate ability for empathetic communication and strategic problem-solving. However, gender norms and expectations can stifle this assertiveness, especially when women advocate for themselves.


Bias plays a significant role in this challenge. Research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that women who negotiate for themselves, especially regarding salaries, may be perceived as less likable. Such implicit bias, conscious or unconscious, contributes to the 'double bind' that women often experience at work. Recognising this bias is the first step towards navigating it, as managers who need to be aware of it, and for women so they are further empowered in the negotiation process.


Learning to advocate for yourself assertively and confidently is a skill that can be developed. Here are some key strategies:

1. Be clear and concise: Have clarity on what you want to say before you walk into a negotiation. State your needs and wants directly and respectfully. A clear and concise message is more likely to be understood and respected.

2. Practice active listening: Active listening not only signals respect for others' viewpoints but also provides valuable insights that can be used to shape your negotiation strategy.

3. Stay calm and composed: A study from the Journal of Applied Psychology found that emotional intelligence significantly influences negotiation outcomes. By managing your emotions, you maintain focus and control during negotiations.

4. Use "I" statements: "I" statements express your needs without coming across as confrontational, creating a more open dialogue.

5. Back yourself: Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and assert your points through the negotiation. Make sure you continue to be clear with your messages and don’t yield ‘your ask’ at the first sign of resistance.


The 'double bind' refers to the precarious balance women often need to maintain between assertiveness and likability. When a woman negotiates assertively, she may face what's known as the 'likeability penalty'—a bias where women who advocate for themselves are perceived as less likable. This creates a challenging paradox, and even though it’s incredibly frustrating that women still must deal with this in 2023 after all of the progress that has been made, there are strategies to navigate this effectively:

1. Framing: Research from Harvard Kennedy School shows that 'framing' your negotiation can make a significant difference. Instead of presenting your needs as demands, frame them as proposals for mutual benefit.

2. Seeking External Validation: Bring objective metrics, KPIs, peer data, industry standards, or external validation into the negotiation. This serves as proof of your competence and worth and reinforces the validity of your requests.

3. Building Relationships: Take time to build relationships with your negotiation counterparts. When there is mutual respect and understanding, the likeability penalty tends to lessen.

4. Use Conditional Language Sparingly: While it might feel safer to use language like, "I might be wrong, but…" or "Perhaps we could…", it can undermine the strength of your assertions. However, don't eliminate such language entirely. Balancing conditional language with assertive statements can make your negotiation style feel more collaborative.

5. Normalise Negotiation: Do what you can to encourage a culture where negotiation is expected and normalised. This can be particularly helpful for women as it removes the 'aggressive' label that is sometimes associated with negotiation. The more it is expected, the less likely it is to trigger a likeability penalty.

These strategies are taking into account and navigating the current societal expectations and biases. In the long run, we must continue to challenge these norms to create a more equitable landscape. Remember, your worth is not up for negotiation. Don't let the fear of the 'likeability penalty' deter you from getting what you deserve.


Leaders can create an environment that encourages assertive communication and fair negotiation. Here's how:

1. Encourage Open Dialogue: The Psychological Safety theory, popularised by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, underscores the importance of creating safe spaces for open conversation.

2. Provide Training: According to the Corporate Executive Board, companies that provide comprehensive training programs have 218% higher income per employee than those without.

3. Challenge Bias: Actively work to challenge and overcome gender bias in your workplace, and do your own work to understand and mitigate your own biases. This not only improves the working environment but also contributes to increased productivity.

4. Advocate for Fairness: Ensure your workplace has a fair process for negotiations and make sure you’re aware of any gender pay gaps that exist within your team. Have a plan to remedy them without women having to negotiate or prove their worth to get to fair and equal pay.

5. Lead by Example: By modelling assertive communication and negotiation, leaders set the tone for their team members of all genders, and help normalise it for women, reducing the double bind that women can face.


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