Negotiation in business: What does it mean to win?

The Business Dictionary defines negotiation as, “a give-and-take process between two or more parties seeking to discover a common ground and reach an agreement to settle a matter of mutual concern or resolve a conflict.” A “win-win” strategy is a collaborative process that aims to accommodate all participants ( delineates the following stages of negotiation:

1. Preparation.
2. Discussion.
3. Clarification of goals.
4. Negotiate toward a “win-win” outcome.
5. Agreement.
6. Implementation of a course of action.

Key elements of realizing a “win-win” result are positive attitudes; expectations for success; knowledge of the business, the wider employment environment, yourself and the other party; and interpersonal skills, including focused listening and efficient speaking.

Gender perspectives

Harvard’s Program on Negotiation contends that negotiation skills are different for women and men.

Gender discrimination is persistent in the workplace, although it may be more implicit today than in the past. Traditional assumptions are still made about women’s roles in business and in family settings. Consequently, negotiations about salary, promotions and working conditions present a challenge that requires a more “calibrated” approach for women.

Among the most striking of PON’s negotiating tips for women are these factors:

  • Negotiation research reveals that when objective information is available prior to a pay-raise negotiation, such as the salaries of colleagues and peers in the same industry, women perform better at the bargaining table.
  • Female salary negotiation research shows that women, more often than men, need to legitimize their requests during a negotiation. They view the situation from the employer’s perspective and use the pronoun “we” instead of “I” during the ask. (This research was reported in “Why Women Don’t Negotiate Their Job Offers” by Hannah Riley Bowles, Harvard Business Review.)

A strategy for success

Using an “I-We” strategy was highlighted by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who said that for women it’s important to ask for what you want while signaling to your counterpart that you are taking the organization’s perspective — you care about organizational relationships, the “relational account.”

Margaret A. Neale, co-director of Stanford’s Executive Program for Women Leaders at the Graduate School of Business, agrees with this perspective, stating that during her negotiations with the dean, she framed how her package of resources would allow her to fulfill the needs of Stanford University and help the dean solve problems for the organization.

She says the communal orientation, “It’s not about me, it’s about what I can do for you,” mitigates what research tells us are negative reputational effects for women.

For those who object to women having to “play games” with negotiation, consider the pragmatic and sage advice of Jay Walker, founder of Priceline and now chairman of Walker Digital, who was asked, “What is your single best interview question?” by Adam Bryant for the New York Times’ Corner Office column.

Walker’s answer: “Tell me how you’re going to make a great deal of impact on our organization, and how you’re going to make us both a lot of money.” Now that’s win-win.


Becky S. Cornett is a member of the WELD Impact Committee, and Barb Smoot is the president and CEO of WELD. Women for Economic and Leadership Development desires to increase the number of women in business and government leadership in Central Ohio.