Learning Objectives

  • Learn to understand the components of an effective negotiation plan.
  • Learn to approach negotiation in an effective and confident manner.
  • Learn to engage effectively in negotiation.
  • Learn to avoid common pitfalls to negotiation.
  • Learn to understand and navigate situations in which gender plays a role in negotiation.


Negotiation is a discussion between two or more people that involves two main functions: identifying a common ground and reaching an explicit agreement regarding a matter of mutual concern. It’s an advanced strategy that relies on the mastery of basic communication skills. However, although negotiation is thought to be an experience, like being at the “negotiating table,” it is actually an active process, it happens almost every day in the school environment and the workplace—we just may not always recognize it1. In fact, we negotiate lots of things in our work and research, including asking for expanded roles and opportunities, seeking support to move ahead, asking for resources (e.g., time, funding, assistance) to get work done, agreeing on goals and objectives, and claiming credit for our work2,3.

This module will help you become aware of aspects of negotiation that you should consider as a woman in a science, technology, engineering, or math field, and it will teach you some guidelines and steps for navigating the negotiation process effectively.


Before a negotiation, you would most likely…

If you chose answer a, negotiation is not a feared or unusual experience for you, as you probably understand that life is full of many ongoing negotiations and that they merely vary in size and importance. If you chose answer b, you likely prefer to wait things out. You probably don’t avoid negotiation, but you may be unsure of when and how to negotiate to reach your objectives. If you chose answers c or d, you likely have some struggles when it comes to negotiation. You may give up early on, or avoid negotiation altogether. If so, that’s okay—you are definitely not the only one—with a little help and practice, you can improve your negotiation skills and build your confidence.

Gender and Negotiation

As a woman in a science, technology, engineering, or math environment, you face some unique challenges when it comes to negotiation. Maybe you’ve noticed instances in the past when you felt you needed to negotiate for something—more resources, a deadline extension, even extra lab time or access to equipment—but for whatever reason, you backed off. Unfortunately, this is common for women. In fact, research has shown that women are two to three times less likely to initiate negotiations than men4.

So what keeps women from negotiating? Research points to socialization5. Society sends messages about how men and women are and should be. We see portrayals of both sexes in the media, and they differ significantly. All you have to do is turn on the TV to see examples of men and women at home and in the workplace, and see their roles and the activities in which they participate—and those differences are usually pretty stark. Further, women pick up messages in their professional experiences conveying a gender bias that makes it risky to become too successful6.

Studies have also demonstrated that women tend to develop what psychologists call an external locus of control; that is, women are more likely to believe that others or external factors control their circumstances, while men are more likely to believe that they can influence their circumstances and opportunities through their own actions4. In result, women tend to carry the perception that their circumstances are fixed and less negotiable than they really are. Rather than be assertive and proactive about entering negotiation, they tend to think that their performance alone will be enough to bring them the opportunities and recognition they deserve4.

Women are particularly effective in negotiating for time and flexibility8, and when they feel that what is good for them is also good for their group9. Women also outperform men in negotiating on behalf of others10.

Some men may find a hardworking, talented woman to be very threatening. Women may also encounter faculty and peers who assume that they are less capable than their male counterparts in science and engineering fields dominated by men7. These beliefs on the parts of others may enter into the negotiation process. What women may not realize is that their collaborative, integrative nature makes them better negotiators because they know how to balance their interests with other’s interests—strengths that benefit them provided they assert themselves and ask for what they need.6

As a woman, your negotiations will often require raising awareness of gender issues and pushing back on gendered stereotypes and practices, even when you’re not addressing gender directly. For example, in the workplace, by negotiating a flexible time arrangement, you may also reveal how your organization’s practices make it difficult for mothers to succeed11. In the university environment, negotiating for a leadership role in your lab or research group can simultaneously call attention to the fact that women have been overlooked. Claiming value for “invisible” work in your lab can show how bias operates in performance reviews and even authorship consideration12. You can see that while negotiation is a critical skill for everybody, it’s an especially important function for women—it can give you the means to counter the effects of gender bias.

Cultural Considerations in Negotiation

Culture can also play an important role in how a negotiation unfolds. Culture can influence how someone interprets power dynamics with important stakeholders, favors different types of negotiation (i.e., face-to-face discussion vs. using a mediator), and sets goals for a negotiated outcome (i.e. individual vs. collective)13. A successful negotiator will consider these types of cultural values.

Consider the following example:

Dr. Xu always heavily critiques every assignment I turn in. In class, I felt like she picked on me more than other students and was always challenging my analyses or asking me to rewrite my papers. Finally, I got really frustrated and I planned to talk with her about how unfair I thought she was being with me and about possibly changing advisors. I told my labmate about my plan to talk to Dr. Xu about it and she looked terrified! She told me that in her home country (she and Dr. Xu were actually from the same province), criticism is a sign that the professor thinks you have great potential and that you’re worth his or her time and energy—a high honor and compliment.

In this example, culture is clearly playing a role in the interactions between these two individuals. If she were to negotiate for a different advisor, or even for her current advisor to change her style of feedback, culture would be an important factor for consideration. Cultural nuances like this and other examples don’t have to be mysterious. Most of the time, you’ve probably had a reasonable amount of contact with this particular person so you can predict responses and communication style by your past experiences. Also keep in mind that sometimes these mannerisms are a reflection of personal style rather than their respective culture.

Guidelines for Negotiation

Keep the following in mind as you approach your negotiations.

Evaluate the need for negotiation

If you are in a situation where the prospects are worse if NO agreement takes place, then it may be a good idea to consider negotiating14. The following four questions will help you to assess this.

Ask yourself, “If I do nothing, …”:

  1. Will I feel good about myself?
  2. Will I feel good about the situation?
  3. Will I be able to live with the situation the way it is for the duration of my graduate school experience?
  4. Will the situation, as it is, enhance important aspects of my academic experience (e.g., research productivity, my grades, my progress, my funding, etc.)?

If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, negotiating may be a good option for you, because doing nothing means things will most likely remain the same.

Plan your negotiation

Negotiation involves preparation. Good preparation involves considering the following criteria16:

  • What’s at stake: what are your objectives? What are the other person’s objectives?
  • Alternatives: what are your alternatives to negotiation? What are the other person’s alternatives?
  • Potential negotiated outcomes: Is there a potential deal (or deals) that could satisfy both parties’ objectives better than the alternatives to negotiation?
  • Costs: What will it cost you to negotiate? What do you expect to lose in terms of tangible resources (e.g., funding, letters of recommendation)? Will negotiating set a bad precedent?
  • Implementation: If you do reach a deal, is there a reasonable prospect that it will be carried out?

During your preparation, you should brainstorm different solutions that not only seem viable for you, but will also seem reasonable to the other party14. Avoid getting stuck on one “right” answer.

Do your homework

Be clear on what is expected from you; investigate the departmental norms or precedents set by your peers or preceding student cohorts (See Planning Your Message). If you are clear on what the expectations are, you’ll find that negotiation is an easier and more straightforward process15. Have relevant information ready to discuss to levy for your agenda. Know what your on-the-books “rights” are, as well as what is typical informal department policy on such things. This will help you predict a response in advance and manage the situation better. Remember: knowing your rights as a student or employee in some cases is the most important thing you can do to empower yourself in negotiation situations.

Engaging in negotiation

Experts suggest that there are four important factors to keep in mind when negotiating, each of which entails something to think about (i.e., some planning) and something to do (i.e., some action): people, interests, options, and criteria14. Table 1 gives a summary of each factor, along with suggestions for implementation.


Your lab partner has been using the only computer that has the upgraded software for running the analysis for his dissertation. But you also need it do your part of your project. You know he has a deadline, but so do you. What should you do?

Best Answer: c. While option A may open the door for negotiation, it is quite tentative and it fails to present options for the other person; option (a) also does not allow the other person to contribute in a collaborative manner. Option (b) avoids negotiation entirely, which can lead you to feelings of frustration, resentment, or even anger. It also sends a message that you are okay with how things are, which may hinder negotiation in the future. Option (d) recognizes your negative emotions, but is a passive approach that avoids negotiation [see Assertiveness]. It also causes you to bottle up negative emotions, which can lead to explosions later on. Option (c) is direct—it offers alternative solutions, and even gives the other person room to contribute to the negotiation as well.

Be flexible

Flexibility is an important component of negotiation given that negotiation usually involves multiple stakeholders.
Be prepared and willing to look at the problem from multiple angles and consider multiple options for solution. Be ready to bring in mutually agreed-upon third party individuals as consultants, if necessary. The best way to deal with difference is to look for areas that are low-risk to you, high-reward to the other person, and vice versa.

You can also “fractionate” or break your problem or situation down into smaller parts that seem more negotiable14. It is important to separate substantive issues (i.e. what the problem is really about) from process issues (i.e. being afraid of how someone else will react to this issue).

Develop a BATNA

A BATNA is your “Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement”14. It’s what you are and are not willing to settle for. Before entering into any negotiation, it will help you to know your BATNA in advance. For example, if you know you’ll need to negotiate with your lab mates for time to use the lab’s specialized equipment for a project and you have an approaching deadline, you’ll know in advance the days you need to use the lab as well as when it’s too late, as well as the days that absolutely will not work for you. If you have a BATNA, you can judge how the negotiation is going and if you’ve achieved what is acceptable to you. This doesn’t mean you need to settle for your BATNA. It merely enables you to explore a wider range of options, be creative, and be flexible. Having only one solution leaves you and the other party in a bind.

Anticipate Your outcomes

Having a plan doesn’t just entail thinking about different solutions. A plan also includes rehearsing how you will respond to things. You should be aware of your possible reactions or how you will feel if you do or don’t get what you intended. In planning, try to cover all the angles and possible scenarios [see Planning Your Message].


  • If____ happens, I will _____.


  • If I see that ______will not work, I will suggest we revisit this at another time so that I don’t close the door on this discussion.

Remember: It’s okay to delay.

Walk yourself through your plan. You may also want to imagine how you will negotiate and accept a Plan B or C or how you will responsibly reject an unworkable plan, but stay away from visualizing catastrophe. Don’t engulf yourself in negative scenarios or get consumed with anxious emotions. If you are well prepared, negotiation won’t get to that level.

Don’t analyze crucial concerns alone. Get advice and support from other people. Practicing what you want to say with a trusted friend or family member will make you feel more confident when the time comes to have the actual conversation.

Decide what is NOT negotiable to you

Although not everything in your program is up for negotiation, you may have some issues that are non-negotiable for you. That’s OK—it shows that you know how to set limits, provided that you don’t set outrageous ones.

For example, if you can’t stay after 4pm because your daughter does competitive gymnastics, you’ll have to figure out how to integrate your values into the values of your program. Maybe you can come in an hour early or make up hours on another day so you can leave at 4pm, since the predominant value of your lab is productivity.


Your lab group has a tight deadline for your grant deliverables. You’ve been working day and night it seems! However, your vacation (that you requested several months ago) is next week. You know it’s coming in the midst of a very hectic time, but you already have travel plans. When you reminded your advisor of this, he got very upset with you and told you you’re not being a “team player” then stormed out of the lab. He hasn’t talked to you since and you’re not sure the status of your leave time now. You should…

Best Answer: b. Option (a) may feel like a safe strategy to try to deal with him directly, but it avoids negotiation, and it puts your needs at his disposal, which is unfair for you and may lead to future ill feelings on your part. Option (d) disregards your plans altogether. Option (c) ensures that your goals and needs are met, but it completely ignores those of your advisor and the lab group, which can cause them to harbor feelings of resentment toward you. It also avoids negotiating your time, and it may lead to complications in the future. Option (b) ensures that the situation is dealt with promptly and effectively, and it gives you the best chance to both patch things up with your advisor and ensure that you are able to leave on your well-deserved vacation.

Be aware of your “Gendered Lens”

Sometimes women have different interpersonal styles, so negotiation with male colleagues, supervisors, or advisors can present challenges. You both may be looking at the situation through different lenses and using different strategies6 [see Gender for more]. You do not need to mirror your male counterpart’s style, but be aware of where you are coming from. Sometimes ambitious women have negative self-perceptions or evaluate themselves critically or harshly because they have few messages in their environment that are positively affirming or reinforcing6. Affirmations and words of encouragement are rare in academic environments, particularly in departments and disciplines that are dominated by men. Sometimes STEM women don’t think of themselves as ambitious or efficacious or even competent because they are in a competitive environment. Don’t let this happen. You’re in graduate school—of course you are motivated, able, and accomplished!

Have an exit plan

Above all, you’ll want to keep your cool so that if you find yourself in a hostile situation, it’s best to have an exit plan. Even if you decide that someone is being unreasonable, you will want to have rational reactions and thoughtful responses. Don’t let a curve ball response in a negotiation send you into a tailspin. Have an exit plan for a negotiation that doesn’t go well, like, “It appears we’ve reached an impasse,” or “Maybe we should revisit this at another time.” It’s okay to have a “what happened?” conversation at a later time to defuse any unresolved issues from a difficult negotiation, particularly where your objectives were not met at all17.

Document your agreements

A verbal agreement is great but a written one is better. This doesn’t have to mean having a signed contract, but documenting the agreement in some way is important. This can mean having a work plan set up that entails mutual expectations, dates, and tasks. You can take notes on the negotiated plan and give the other person(s) a copy later or send an email describing the agreement so that people can let you know if you or they have misinterpreted something. This makes things clear and puts it in writing for future reference.


If you found out you are pregnant and you work in a wet lab with potentially harmful chemicals, you would likely need to make some important decisions about whether you should change your working conditions for the health of the baby. Some of these decisions would involve the input of others. As a member of the lab group, you would need to negotiate for changes in your responsibilities in the short-term and in the long-term. Yes, you will be making some changes but most likely you will also need some concessions on the part of the program, your advisor, and your labmates—all very important stakeholders. What would you do?

Best Answer: a. Answer b is an attempt to negotiate collaboratively, but it is passive and it opens the door for your situation to not even be brought up. Option c avoids negotiation. While it may offer a possible solution, it forecloses any other options in favor of one option that may end up being harmful for you, and sub-optimal for your group. Option d allows your anxiety to get the best of you, and actually causes you to lose opportunities. Rather than discuss the situation with your advisor and lab mates, you quit before you have the chance to negotiate an acceptable alternative. Option a takes a productive approach to negotiation—doing homework on the situation beforehand, considering the positions of others, and coming up with possible alternative outcomes.

CareerWISE Point

Negotiation has to reflect both your personal style and what will work within the system you are in. However, in order to achieve an important goal, you may have to move outside your comfort zone. This means that when entering a negotiation, you may experience some discomfort, but the end goal should be a respectful and workable compromise that involves mutual gain.

In academia, we expect a more even playing field, since both women and men achieve their positions presumably based on ability and performance. But competence and achievements aren’t always the only basis for being evaluated or making progress. As a woman in a STEM field, you will face inherently different issues in negotiation than your male counterparts. Recognizing that there are inequities in the academic system will help you and other women form appropriate plans of action.

CareerWISE Tips

  • You don’t have to keep your negotiation plans to yourself—it’s important to run important issues and how you plan to handle them by someone you trust. He or she may serve as an important “reality check” or have a different perspective that can inform your process16.
  • Negotiation is an art that that relies heavily on basic communication skills. See the modules on Planning Your Message, Active Listening, Expressing Yourself, Receiving and Responding to Feedback, and Assertiveness to help you expand and refine your negotiation toolbox.


  1. Kolb, D. M., & McGinn, K. (2009). Beyond gender and negotiation to gendered negotiations. Negotiation and conflict management research, 2(1), 1-16. doi:10.1111/j.1750-4716.2008.00024.x
  2. Kolb, D. M., & Williams, J. (2000). The shadow negotiation: How women can master the hidden agendas that determine bargaining success. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  3. Kolb, D. M., & Williams, J. (2003). Everyday negotations: Navigating the hidden agendas of bargaining. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  4. Babcock, L., & Laschever, S. (2007). Women don’t ask: The high cost of avoiding negotiation and positive strategies for change. New York: Bantam Dell.
  5. Heilman, M. E., & Parks-Stamm, E. J. (2007). Gender stereotypes in the workplace: Obstacles to women’s career progress. In S. J. Correll (Ed.), Social psychology of gender: Advances in group processes: 47-77. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
  6. Babcok, L & Laschever, S. (2003). Women don’t ask: Negotiation and the gender divide.
  7. Wood, J.T. (2007). Gendered lives: Communication, gender, and culture. United States: Thomson Wadsworth.
  8. Bohnet, I., & Greig, F. (2007). Gender matters in workplace negotiations. Negotiation, 11(4), 4-6.
  9. Kolb, D. M., & Kickul, J. (2006). It pays to ask: Negotiation conditions for leadership success. CGO Insights, 23, 1-8.
  10. Bowles, H. R., & McGinn, K. L. (2008). Gender in job negotiations: A two-level game. Negotiation Journal, 24(4), 393-410. doi:10.1111/j.1571-9979.2008.00194.x
  11. Correll, S. J., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty? American Journal of Sociology, 112, 1297-1338. doi:10.1086/511799
  12. Martin, J. (1994). The organization of exclusion: Institutionalization of sex inequality, gendered faculty jobs and gendered knowledge in organizational theory and research. Organization, 1(2), 401-431. doi:10.1177/135050849412011
  13. Brett, J. M. (2000). Culture and negotiation. International Journal of Psychology, 35, 97-104. doi:10.1080/002075900399385
  14. Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B. (2011). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in (3rd ed). Boston, MA: Houghton Muffin Company.
  15. Bowles, H. R., Babcock, L., & McGinn, K. L. (2005). Constraints and triggers: Situational mechanics of gender in negotiation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 951-965. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.89.6.951
  16. Mnookin, R. (2010). Bargaining with the devil: When to negotiate, when to fight. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  17. Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (1999). Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most. New York, NY: Viking Penguin.

An Example of How to Negotiate (Part 2)
Strategies for negotiating as a faculty member.

Persuading an Advisor
Suggestions for defining research.

Critical Mass
Captures the annoyance of male colleagues making sexist assumptions and the challenges with conference travel as a female graduate student.

Stubbornness and Tenacity
Highlights the obstacles faced when trying to have research reviewed by the advisor and emphasizes the steps necessary to make adequate progress in the program.

Compromises Outside the Realm of Children
Addresses personal relationship sacrifices.

Words of Wisdom: Dr. Anderson-Rowland
The importance of finding a good advisor and making sure to get everything in writing.

I Have Not Figured Out How to Say "No"
Emphasizes the challenge with saying no, but the importance of learning to do so.

Asserting Yourself in the Face of Authority
The importance of standing up for yourself.


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