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Five Ways to Sharpen Your Negotiation Skills

04/29/2015 10:56 am ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

The art of negotiation has become a pretty controversial topic -- so much so that in some organizations, salary negotiation is banned. Yet, is negotiation always something that ends negatively for women? Is negotiation a skill that isn't needed once a new job is landed? And are all negotiation skills the same? Negotiation skills can be a big driver of career advancement. Here are five ways to sharpen you negotiation skills and support your career success.

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1. Explore Your Authentic Negotiation Style

There are all sorts of styles of negotiation and, ultimately, it breaks down to communication styles and the choices we make when we negotiate. Two differing forms of negotiation are competitive and collaborative negotiation. Competitive negotiation usually involves hard bargaining or a situation with fixed and finite outcomes. If I "win," you "lose." Collaborative negotiation is a whole other game. When using a collaborative style, the goal in the negotiation is to create more and new options that create better outcomes. Ultimately, we're willing to take smaller portions of a limited resource because each negotiating party is adding new options to the deal. There are no "winners" or "losers," but collaborators, because everyone gets a benefit from the negotiation.

2. Be Aware of the Gender Pitfalls of Negotiation

The research on gender differences does indicate a very real potential for negative backlash from male colleagues when using a competitive negotiation style, particularly when it comes to pay. Yet, the backlash can be reduced by adopting a cooperative and collaborative approach. Turns out that when women advocate for others, not only does it activate a socialized behavior of women being nurturing, it also doesn't come across as a negative behavior. The trick here is to appropriately identify who you are advocating for. An example of this might be negotiating for more resources for your team. More resources would amplify work outcomes, and would be aligned with your organization's or project's goal.

3. Continue Using Negotiation Skills After You Land the Job

We are constantly able to negotiate throughout our career, and the real negotiation happens once we land the job. Whether it's preparing for an annual review or pitching ideas for future projects, collaborative negotiation skills drive success because you are adding value through creating new ideas. That value is only limited by your own curiosity. One way to implement this would be to spot a challenge your organization or team might face, and think of ways to solve the challenge.

At your annual review, or when it make sense to discuss this with your boss, bring up the challenge and your created solution. You might win yourself some new work, and you might be your organizations new "intraprenuer" -- a person who exhibits all the abilities of an entrepreneur but prefers to work within an established organization. Intraprenuers often are drivers of innovation within organizations.

4. Success in Negotiation Is More About Experience, Not Gender

A recent study published by researchers at the University of Florida suggests that success in negotiation might be a function of experience, not gender. Another survey conducted by a car leasing company found that more women than men actually enjoyed the negotiation process. Fear and lack of confidence in the skill might have more to do with fewer women negotiating than any sort of gender difference. The key for those who are less inclined to negotiation is to find low-risk situations to practice and gain confidence. Start with a farmer's market or a street vendor or a flea market -- where the seller has the ability to change the price and you have a chance to see how your offer will be received. Consider negotiating with friends -- trade covering the first round of beverages for meeting at a place that is easier for you to get to.

5. Don't Be Limited by Just Salary

There are so many aspects of career and work that are available to be negotiated beyond salary. Maybe you want to work from home, or figure out a way to get a budget for professional development to save costs for your company. There are so many other options that you can ask for beyond salary, and many of these options would be easy for employers to say "yes" to. This is where it's important to evaluate what is important to you beyond salary, and then do some research. What has your organization offered to others in the past? What would be easy for them to approve -- particularly if support would benefit the organization directly?

Negotiation -- particularly collaborative negotiation -- is a vital and creative skill that can help build a career and future of your own making. Negotiation as a skill does not have to present risk. The question is: Do we have the conviction to discover and build those dreams?

To support everyone -- particularly women -- get over their fear of negotiation, Tanya Tarr, the author of this piece for GoGirl Finance, started a Kickstarter campaign to build a negotiation lab. The negotiation classes create a safe space for young professionals to practice collaborative negotiation skills. Resources from this campaign will also allow her to adapt the negotiation manuals for kids between the ages of 12 and 18, with a strong focus on developing these workbooks for young women and girls.