Whether it’s signing a lease on a new office space or inking a deal for a company they represent, women in business have either already grown accustomed to the art of negotiating, or need to take a crash course in how to do so effectively, as the skill is becoming increasingly expected of them.
Research suggests it gets better with practice: According to a recent study in the Psychological Bulletin, women in particular tend to achieve more favorable economic outcomes the more time they spend at the bargaining table.
However, for many Baton Rouge businesswomen, that’s easier said than done. Some local professionals—oftentimes, regardless of her generation—have been chastised for appearing too eager to take whatever is offered, too upfront about what they want, or too polite in the negotiations process, and they’re finding they need to learn the rules of engagement.
As a top-performing auctioneer at Christie’s, Lydia Fenet, author of The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You, says she’s used to trying to persuade a bidder to purchase something they might not initially want to purchase—a task she’s been able to master by not worrying about what the potential buyer is thinking.
“You have to stop thinking about it emotionally, and think of it more as a business transaction,” says Fenet, a Louisiana native who serves as managing director of strategic partnerships for Christie’s in New York City. “Culturally, that’s not something women have been taught to do, but we must first disavow ourselves of the notion that business is personal.”
Because of this, Fenet says she often has the younger women on her team come up to ask her a question, to which she’ll respond “no.” It’s a word they need to hear frequently so that it becomes less scary to them, she says, particularly when it comes to negotiating.
She also encourages women to identify what it is about their personalities that makes them comfortable with going after what they want, and tap into that character trait. For Fenet, it’s her sense of humor, which she uses to bring levity to what can be an intense bidding process.
“I’ve watched so many male auctioneers say, ‘You can pay more,’ and I just think, ‘I could never say that to a 60-year-old man,’” Fenet says. “But what I can, and do, say is, ‘A man like yourself, who looks exactly like George Clooney, could certainly afford one more bid.’ A little charm never hurts anyone, and Southern women have that in spades.”
With negotiations an everyday occurrence in real estate, some local female agents and brokers, speaking from years of experience, swear by one tactic: Be prepared.
“Never tell people, ‘I’ll have to get back to you with that answer,'” says Dottie Tarleton of Stirling Properties. “It goes back to knowing your subject—market conditions, comparable sales and leases and so forth—in order to negotiate from a position of strength.”
Meanwhile, Carmen Austin of Saurage Rotenberg Commercial Real Estate says businesswomen should truly listen to the other person on the other end of the table, use their female intuition and think creatively to come up with a win-win situation for both parties.
“Find out what’s really important to the other party—it’s not always about the money,” says Austin. “Women can actually have an advantage in negotiations because they have an innate ability to listen and are more prone to think creatively.”