Negotiating at Work: Turn Small Wins Into Big Gains

Deborah Kolb, founder of the Center for Gender in Organizations, discusses how to negotiate for success.

Article first appeared in Spring 2015 SOM Management Magazine

“Alicia is divisional vice president (DVP) for a sales region in one of the largest divisions of a leading technology company. She has learned that the regional VP is being considered for another job in the company, and she wants his job. She has an upcoming meeting with the vice chairman, who she heard has somebody else in mind. ... Alicia has a lot going for her: she’s brought her team to a high level, had exposure to strategic initiatives at the company, and maintained a strong track record. Of course, her resume isn’t perfect; she’s been in the DVP role for only four years. Although that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, people in Alicia’s firm seem to think a woman needs more seasoning before being promotable.”

This is just one of the few real-life examples that Deborah Kolb, founder of the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons College School of Management and Jessica L. Porter, expert on gender and leadership, discuss in their book, Negotiating at Work: Turn Small Wins into Big Gains. Kolb and Porter take you step by step on how to properly and efficiently negotiate­—from recognizing you have a situation to negotiate, to preparing and positioning yourself for negotiation. They offer strategies to get the other person to the table and engage in creative problem solving, and provide “moves and turns” for when challenges may arise. 

Since the people at Alicia’s firm seem to think that women need “more seasoning” she will be negotiating against the status quo. For years, gender inequality has been a huge issue in society; unfortunately many hurdles remain. Patricia Deyton, director of the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons School of Management, notes the importance of understanding that “hurdles” in the way of advancement of women are deeply embedded in organizations, although women are often told “just work harder.” Becoming skilled in the art and science of negotiations, as indicated by Kolb and Porter, enables women to work smarter. “Women are less likely than men to ask, to initiate negotiations, to be positively disposed toward negotiation,” Kolb and Porter say. “They are less confident; and they are more likely to set lower goals.” With that said, negotiation is a critical skill for women to learn in order to succeed. 

To help illustrate the challenges you may face at work or within your organization, Negotiating at Work uses real-life situations of professionals from a wide range of industries and organizations, both national and international, to help you understand and put in effect these strategies. The compelling narratives present challenges and offer solutions to situations to which the reader can relate. 

In Alicia’s situation, by negotiating for herself and “opening up conversation, she has, on a small scale, interrupted one form of second-generation bias in her company—giving senior roles to those in your network—she has enlarged the slate and made it more diverse.” Although this may be a small win for Alicia it “can lead to increased opportunities for others in the organization as promotion practices evolve.” In other words: a big gain. 

Article written by Alex Rengifo '18