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Can Improv Make Women Better Negotiators?

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Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 2/6/17 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehension.

Negotiation skills can be acquired, but many women are outright naturals – they just don't know it.

A good negotiator can end up earning much more over the course of her career than someone who doesn't try to negotiate.

A 2010 study by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, drew on U.S. Census Bureau figures to conclude that the typical woman working full time loses $431,000 in pay over a 40-year career compared with what a typical male makes.

The wage gap is even higher in Washington state: $524,000 over 40 years.

CareerBuilder suggests that one reason for the gap is that women don't ask for more money as frequently as men do.

There’s a unique method that women can use to be better negotiators: improv.

Before diving into how improv can transform your negotiating skills, let’s look at the pitfalls many women fall into.

The “price tag” syndrome

Women tend to simply NOT negotiate.

It’s like seeing a price tag and saying, “That’s it. That’s what we have to pay.”

When you look at your salary this way, the loss can add up over a lifetime.

When you learn to see that price tag (or salary, etc.) as negotiable, you’re opening up the conversation and acknowledging the possibility of more.

Under-valuing yourself

Many women fall into this trap.

You don’t ask for a higher salary because you don’t think you deserve it or you’re not worth it.

This kind of thinking can derail your career goals and keep you stuck on the same rung of the ladder.

Let’s delve into three ways women can use the techniques of improv to help them be better negotiators.

1. “Yes, and”

This is one of the most important tenets of improv.

The idea is to respond to what someone else says and then add to it.

You should do this whether or not you agree with what the other person has said.

For example, imagine you’ve shared a great idea with your superior. It’s something you know can significantly improve your team’s productivity.

Her response is, “This may work, but let’s shelve it for six months and revisit it then.”

You can answer with, “Yes, and I’d like to hear more about why you want to do this in six months.”

In this way, you’re creating a collaborative environment – even when you don’t agree.

2. Asking questions

In improv, the goal is to keep moving the action or narrative forward.

The same is true of a negotiation.

Women are typically very good at asking questions.

And not just asking questions, but asking the right kinds of questions.

The idea is to gain insight and gather valuable information that will keep the conversation going.

By using open-ended questions, you can get the other person talking and learn valuable information for your negotiation.

“Yes, I’ve heard of salary caps, and can you tell me more about how we apply those, and if a promotion raises the cap as well?”

3. Preparation is key

Most people would be surprised to find out that improv actors invest in a lot of training and preparation before they perform.

While what happens during the time the actors are on the stage is generated before your eyes, they’ve done a lot of prep work behind the scenes.

Preparation is also an important part of negotiating.

You probably won’t be successful in asking for a salary increase if you walk into the boss’ office and say, “I was thinking that I should be making more money.”

It’s important that you take the time to think through your reasons and to gather examples that prove your point. Data is power.

Improv makes women confident negotiators

The idea of entering into negotiations of any kind can be daunting.

Awareness can help you avoid pitfalls.

Putting improv strategies into action gives you the confidence you need to be a successful negotiator.

Do you find negotiating stressful? Would solid strategies give you confidence at the negotiating table?

Takeaway: The next time a negotiation of any sort is on the horizon, take the time to prepare, ask good questions and use “Yes, and” statements.

Tweet: Women can come to the negotiating table with confidence if they have improv strategies in their toolbox. #improvtips

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