Knowing When—and When NOT—to Negotiate

business partnership happy-edits

We’ve all heard the expression, “Never start a war you can’t win.” Or on a more practical level: “Pick your battles.”

Which, it turns out, is something successful women do to our advantage most of the time.

Women are naturally encouraged to be assertive and confident when it comes to demanding what we feel we’re worth. But it might not make good sense to always negotiate when given the chance.

business partnership happyThis is because women are better at knowing when negotiations won’t work out in our favor, say economics and management researchers in a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Their research showed that, while both men and women were more likely to negotiate when they stood to lose from not negotiating, women tended to avoid negotiating if they knew they wouldn’t benefit. “[When] women opt out of negotiations, they tend to [avoid] substantial losses,” the study authors write. “[It shows] women can think ahead, and know when [and when not] to ask.”

The takeaway? Our natural intuition – combined with a little bit of strategy – can help us determine the situations when it pays to negotiate, and when it doesn’t.

Weigh Your Options
Jenny Foss, a recruiter and author of the Ridiculously Awesome Career Pivot Kit, recommends keeping these guidelines in mind before you decide to negotiate (we’ll use salary or promotion negotiations as an example):

Consider negotiating only when:

  1. You have an offer in writing. There’s no need to play hardball before the game even starts, Foss cautions. “You have more power when you know they want you. So if you have an offer in hand, and it’s not what you wanted, then counteroffer,” Foss suggests.
  2. You’re prepared to argue your value. Employers care most about what you’re going to deliver in the long run, so it’s important to illustrate the concrete value that their extra investment in you will bring. If you put together an effective pitch that demonstrates you’re worth more than their offer, they’ll likely reconsider and at least meet you half way.
  3. You’re prepared to walk away. It doesn’t pay to stick to your demands unless you’re willing to forfeit, Foss says. “If you really like the [opportunity], rather than flat-out decline, [you can] propose a more favorable package. The worst case is the same either way, so at least take a run at it.”

Avoid negotiating when:

  1. You’ve pretty much accepted the original terms. If you took time to consider their first offer and gave the impression you’d take it, trying to backtrack and change the terms is probably futile. The key: Don’t commit yourself either way. Say thank you for the offer, but add that you’d like to sleep on it. Give yourself time to fully consider the offer before agreeing to something you’ll regret.
  2. You’re told this is as good as it gets. When a new team really wants you, they may come right out and tell you they’re making their strongest offer. If you aren’t going to decline at that number, it’s risky to ask for more at this point. You’ll look like you ignored what they offered in the first place, Foss says.
  3. You can’t justify playing hardball. If you know their offer is on par with others, don’t negotiate just for the heck of it. If you’ve got no solid justification to request more, think long and hard before you push for more.

Bottom line? Women shouldn’t always feel the need to negotiate when given the opportunity. Applying patience and savvy foresight instead can work in our favor for future success.