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An evening with Ruth Barber: Negotiation skills workshop – by Shivi Chandna

Negotiation pic GSOn a cold wintry evening thirty women met at Cambridge AWISE headquarters to learn about negotiation skills and how its outcomes could make the difference between success and failure. The members had the opportunity to learn from the very experienced solicitor and consultant Ruth Barber. She had given a number of such workshops before to different types of audiences including undergraduates. Ruth decided to focus this session on practical tips on negotiating pay rises in the workplace.

Before starting a negotiation it is important to know what you want out of it. This want could be divided into a best possible outcome – knowing the best that you can get, the best realistic outcome – knowing what realistically you could get, and the worst realistic outcome. 
Ruth, keeping the STEM-related audience in mind, drew a graph to explain how she likes to think of these three outcomes as a tropical beach, a temperate zone and the arctic zone (brrr) where you are willing to settle for the least.

Before pitching your case for a pay rise, it is good to do some research on how much your co-­workers are getting paid or the worth of the role in the marketplace. Also it is important to anticipate the likely opposition you would receive and justifying your case against it. There were some great insights from Ruth’s experience over the course of her career on the psychology of negotiation. Suggesting something that would also benefit the employer is usually a good tactic. For example, telling the employer that promoting more women in the workplace is always a good idea.

Some factors do affect women when negotiating. Culturally we may under-estimate ourselves, which means that we are less likely to heighten our expectations. Also, unfortunately, a female negotiator is still considered in society as being pushy rather than being assertive. I hope someday that perception will change. However, the most important thing is to remember that you are always respected for having the courage to ask to be paid more.

The second part of the workshop involved a negotiation exercise with a bit of role-­play thrown in. There was a role of an employee looking for a pay rise/promotion after a 5-­year tenure in the company but also wanting to take time off for his dying cat, Henry. The employer’s negotiation aims were to retain valuable employees without giving a wage increase. My exercise partner and I reached what I like to think was a temperate zone result in our negotiations. And luckily, nobody across the room decided it’s best to just kill the dying cat!

All in all, it was an interesting evening with lots to think about and discuss over AWISE special tea and cakes. I, for one, feel more equipped and look forward to this year’s appraisal time.

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