Nov 1, 2022
Pro Tips

Negotiating advice for women


ally Bussell Fox has been making deals since she was six years old when she wrote her first contract in crayon. She and her parents agreed that if she earned certain grades for a specified amount of time, she would receive a vehicle. At age 16, she got the vehicle.

Often, women don’t think they negotiate, or say they aren’t comfortable with the idea of negotiating.

“Get a clue, you have been negotiating all your life,” Fox said, pointing out that we negotiate our relationships, for a car, a home purchase, for terms of employment and more.

Fox is an attorney and shareholder with Emmanuel, Sheppard & Condon, P.A., where she works primarily with builders, lenders and developers in commercial real estate transactions. A certified mediator and certified arbitrator,

Fox enjoys complicated real estate and business transactions. Her legal career has thrived since 1983 in these decidedly male-dominated arenas where negotiations are a large part of her daily work.

Differing negotiation styles between men and women affect outcomes. Women and men tend to express emotions differently. When men feel at a disadvantage, they can get bullish or tough. Under the same circumstances, women typically get emotional or reserved.

“Crying is not that for later,” Fox cautioned. She also said that men will only focus on the win in negotiations. “Know that and use that to your advantage. Make them feel like they are winning when you are getting what you want.”

Women may focus on one detail of an agreement and forget others - but lack of attention to detail is detrimental.

“It’s not just money, its little terms that count and are important,” she said. “For example, if contracting for a commercial lease space, women often focus on the rent amount only, rather than also being aware of other provisions like repairs, signage, parking.”

Women are often unclear on the outcome they want. Savvy negotiators start with the end they desire in mind while allowing for some flexibility in reaching that desired outcome. Prepare by determining what you want and what you need.

“First, get what you need in the agreement, then go to what you want; compare that with what is fair. You will never get to an agreement if you ask for what is not fair. Fight for what is important and don’t sweat the small stuff. If it’s not important tomorrow or next year, don’t fight over it.”

Women often blame themselves if they don’t get the outcomes they want while factors besides skill and preparation affect negotiation outcomes. Fox recalled an instance when she was representing clients from the Middle East in a conflict with another group from the same part of the world. Mediation failed and the issue went to trial. The matter wasn’t progressing to resolution, so the judge called for a break and ordered opposing parties to talk in the hall. Talk quickly escalated to screaming and wild gestures attracting bailiffs who began running toward the group with guns drawn. Every one of the Middle Easterners turned to the bailiffs in surprise and explained “this is nothing.” They simply used a very different way to communicate. While the situation looked to some like violence was about to take place, the parties settled the issue in the hallway.

Women can leam negotiation skills from men who use more direct speaking styles while women qualify their comments with words like “I think,” I could be wrong,” “this might work,” and “I’m not sure but.” When speakers qualify, listeners tend to lose confidence in what is being said. Women should practice positive attitudes and be more confident in speech delivery and verbiage.

Almost every person is insecure in some part of their life - even the most successful. Get to know your opponent’s insecurities. Women don’t recognize that men have insecurities, but men don’t show them. Leverage that knowledge.

Women have some natural advantages when it comes to negotiations. Women are empathetic and they readily read nuances in speech and body language that men miss. One settlement Fox mediated involved a lot of money and involved people who hated each other. The tension was so bad, they could never put the parties in the same room. The disagreement was settled because one person said “I‘m sorry it has come to this and I am sorry you feel this way.” They never said, “I did something wrong.” The opposing party responded with “I’ve been waiting to hear that; It’s all I wanted.”

Sensitivity to how others communicate and what they really want is an advantage.

Finally, Fox reminds us that in negotiations and in life, “know where you are going, so that you can get there. If you don’t know where you are going, you may not get anywhere, even though you make great time.”

Magi Thomley Williams is a corporate consultant, writer, speaker and trainer at Thomley Consulting. She can be reached at


• Ask for council from other women. Women give advice to other women in business all the time and are happy to do so.

• Avoid incorrect timing. Don’t ask for a raise after the budget is set and don’t ask for anything if your boss is tired or busy. The same advice holds true for negotiations with a significant other.

• Meet in person. Emails and texts don’t convey emotions or can convey emotions that don’t exist. Face-to-face conversations are especially critical in these days of virtual meetings.

• Sit if everyone is sitting; stand if everyone is standing.

• Avoid posts on social media. This caution extends to vendors, competitors, significant others, bosses or anyone else with information or an opinion on an ongoing negotiation.

• No blaming of others. If someone is being unfair, it doesn’t help to tell them.

• Be creative. For example, in the workplace, compensation is not all about salaries, but also about, vacation, employer-paid education, travel, and other non-salary compensation.

• Continue to learn. Two books Fox recommends are Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and Getting More by Stuart Diamond.