Getting a great deal

Leslie Whitaker '79 has written a book for every woman who has made a bad deal because she was too nice. Her Good Girl's Guide to Negotiating: How to Get What You Want at the Bargaining Table was inspired by a bad deal of her own: She wrote a New York Times best-seller, her first book, and got paid $12,400 for it. (She signed without consulting a lawyer or an agent.) The Guide includes advice on buying cars and houses; talking with your doctor; and negotiating divorces, salaries, even funerals and domestic chores.

Whitaker contends that many women, raised to be "good girls," can't stop being nice, "even if it kills us financially or robs us of our fair share of the proverbial pie." Women therefore fall victim to salespeople, employers and family members who take advantage of their willingness to please. But, she maintains, women can learn to reverse the social conditioning that causes them to avoid confrontation and seek praise-and even use some of their relationship-building skills to develop win-win solutions.

Women tend to shy away from making deals because they think it requires manly aggression. But Whitaker's research confirms that "men and women are so much alike in all of the different skills-verbal, math and thinking-which are required for good negotiating." You don't need "a heavy dose of testosterone" to make a good deal, she says. You do need assertiveness, passion (a "very powerful and convincing" trait), creativity and an open mind: "Be open to what the possibilities are. It doesn't have to be either their way or your way."

Other tips for affective negotiating: "No matter how outmatched you may feel, you've got greater power than your opponent if you're willing and able to walk away. So develop a Plan B." Also, prepare: "Do enough research so you know that what you are asking for is reasonable and defensible."

Do Bryn Mawr graduates have an advantage when it comes to negotiating? Recent graduates looking for jobs have an edge, she says, because they are not afraid of doing their homework: "Remember how thoroughly you prepared for your archaeology exam? You've got to use that same dogged appoach to researching your prospective opponent."

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