Closing the Negotiation Gap

5 min read

This piece was originally published on and is republished with permission.

My daughter usually hesitates to advocate for herself but something different happened a few months ago.

She stood up in her 6th-grade class and respectfully told the teacher she felt the test should be delayed.  She listed off her reasons: there was not enough advanced warning from the teacher and the study materials were not clear.

I was slack-jawed as she told me the details of her uncharacteristic approach.

Although she didn’t win her argument, she just shrugged her shoulders, “It wasn’t a big deal, but I’m still mad that she wouldn’t listen to my argument.”

Was my daughter finally cured of her chronic case of self-advocacy timidity?


It turns out my daughter wasn’t advocating for herself.

She was advocating for others and professor, Hannah Riley Bowles’ Harvard research, says this made all the difference.

When we advocate for others, we stay within our societal roles.  We are not seen as aggressive because, when we champion others, the behavior is expected.

Bowles and her team were looking for gender differences in negotiation prowess and they weren’t disappointed.  They asked 200 senior executives to role play either as an employee who was being promoted or role play their boss.  As expected, the female “employees” negotiated 3% less in salaries than the male “employees.”

But a different group of women in the study bested the male “employees” by more than 14% in wage increases!

So why was this group of women immune to the usual gender trap?

Because they were instructed to be the employee’s mentor.

As soon as they saw their role defined as “Taking care of others” they became tough as nails.

That’s what happened to my daughter.  She didn’t feel she was unreasonable or greedy or pushy.  She wasn’t doing this for herself.   She was trying to help the class.

She might have stumbled upon a solution to not just her self-advocacy problem but also the key to avoiding a major stereotype that is a catch-22 for women when they negotiate.  Like it or not, subliminally, women are generally seen as the warm and “Care About Others” sex and when we go against this stereotype and are viewed, instead, as “Care only about Me,” it can hurt us.

Studies have found that when women negotiate salaries on their own behalf, they are often seen as aggressive and employers are less enthusiastic about working with them.


However, when we advocate for others, we stay within our societal roles.  We are not seen as aggressive because, when we champion others, the behavior is expected.

Now, do I think this is a double standard?  Of course!  Do I wish things were different?  Absolutely!  But until the world stops seeing woman = mom, my daughter will need to navigate this tricky terrain.  Besides, she felt confident when she was championing for her class.  I want her to tap into that fierceness.  It might spill over.

Is it possible, while negotiating, to pretend like you are advocating on behalf of a friend?

Like a mentor?

Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Give and Take, thinks this is an excellent strategy and can be done.  He suggests that before my daughter makes a request, she should consider how the request would also benefit others.

Are there other individuals who share her interests?  If she can identify that “beneficiary” (this could also be a group instead of just an individual), she can justify her advocacy and emphasize her concern for others.

What if there isn’t a “beneficiary” that quickly comes to mind?

There are other highly successful strategies that my daughter can use that are in keeping with her “giver” tendencies.  Grant says that since givers like my daughter tend to excel at understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings, they have a knack for finding out more about their counterparts interests and needs.

He found that by trying to focus on what the other party was thinking about and what their interests might be, givers asked more questions and analyzed more options trying to arrive at a solution that was fair.  This way giver still came across as “caring about” the counterparty.

Ed Brodow, author of Negotiation Boot Camp, says this softer approach is exactly what you need to apply to be a world class negotiator.

Brodow’s tips are perfectly in-line with giver tendencies:

  1.  Listen – this will cause the other party to feel respect and it will build trust.
  2.  Seek a Win-Win Outcome – “win-win” negotiators seem to have the most success because (when they “listen” in #1) they can give something to the person they are negotiating with, and that will make it more likely she will get what SHE wants.
  3.  Look for Commonalities – When you can share a common interest or find a common ground with another person, they’ll have a harder time being in confrontation with you.
  4. Acknowledge Counters or Objections – When you do this, it makes the other party feel heard while at the same time avoiding ending the discussion.

Hmm…still sounds like a mentor to me.

What if the key to all of these successful negotiation tactics for women and girls was simply to help us get out of our heads and be ourselves?

When we overthink and second-guess, we start to fixate on what other people might be thinking about us.  “Does the teacher think I’m too aggressive?” “Does the other person think I’m greedy and selfish with these requests?”

It’s pretty hard to focus on the facts or a fair solution if you start to have anxiety that someone is judging you.  You might even act differently and rub someone the wrong way.

In other words, thinking about your emotions ends up creating a situation where you are negotiating with two people at the same time; the counterparty and yourself!

After sitting down with my daughter and trying to explain the concept and some of these strategies, my daughter floored me with her insight.

“So, in other words, you want me to feel like I do when I negotiate with you.”

She went on, “I know you have my best interest at heart so I’m not afraid to ask you for things.  I might be afraid you’ll say “no” but I’m never scared you’ll judge me, so it’s easy.

When she advocated for others like a “mentor,” she was confident.  When she advocates with me, a known and trusted counterpart; she is relentless (trust me).

In both situations, she is out of her head emotionally and focused on the task at hand.

Watch out world.

Laura Clydesdale headshotLaura Clydesdale had an epiphany one day when she noticed her then 10-year-old daughter exhibiting some of the same career-derailing traits as many of her female clients. Did it really start this early, she wondered? Laura decided to leverage her 15 years of experience as a leadership development consultant and launched her popular girls leadership blog.

She is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Toronto Star, and has also been featured on several radio shows and podcasts. Laura lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two children.

For more posts by Laura Clydesdale visit her blog here, or sign up for her newsletter.

You can follow her on Twitter at @l_clydesdale and can be contacted at

Read More from Girls Leadership on:

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