“When you work in consulting, nobody likes you,” Alison Fragale begins the latest Smart Meetings webinar, “How to Harness the Power of Negotiation to Master Your Post-Covid Events Career.”

Fragale, associate professor of organizational behavior at University of North Carolina, recalls her consulting days as the “saddest, loneliest job in the entire world.” But it wasn’t all bad; that recognition caused a shift in her mindset about where true importance lies.

The hardest part of the job, Fragale came to understand, isn’t always the job but the people you’re working with.

“What it made me really appreciate was how you move people, how you have to understand them. I was trying to do a lot to understand my clients. Think about what they cared about, think about what was in it for them [in collaborating]. How was I going to influence and motivate people when I didn’t have any real authority?”

As she struggled in her consulting job, Fragale decided the best kind of job is a job you love, and the second best is the kind you hate. When you hate it, you get motivated to understand yourself better and actually grow, she says.

That growth prompted gems of self-discovery Fragale shared during her webinar, from learning how to be your own cheerleader to the science of prenegotiating. “Negotiation is a science and an art,” Fragale says.

Oh boy, is she right.

Advocate for You

Alison Fragale

When failing to negotiate the terms and conditions of your worklife, it’s a failure in belief in yourself—what Fragale refers to as advocacy. “We’re more afraid of advocating for ourselves, negotiating for ourselves,” she says.

While negotiating, there are often two goals at play, which can come into conflict with one another. “We want to get what we want, and we want to have a good relationship with the person [we’re negotiating with],” Fragale says. Sometimes these two things are mutually exclusive, a fact Fragale says many people, particularly women, have difficulty dealing with.

“A unique challenge for women is fear of backlash. Backlash is a negative reaction anytime you violate an expectation that somebody has. That comes into play [often] with women, the negotiating and advocacy, because we have two conflicting stereotypes that are in our head,” Fragale says. “When people think of negotiators, they often think of very masculine things. They’re aggressive, they’re demanding. When we have a thought of how women are supposed to be, it’s other-oriented, serving and nurturing.”

The challenge is, Fragale says, that negotiation and advocacy create a conflict for women that doesn’t exist as much for men.

“There are parts of your job you love, there are parts of your job you don’t, but you recognize they’re all still parts of your job. You don’t just stop doing the ones you don’t like because it’s not going to work out very well for you,” Fragale says. “Negotiation is part of your job; it might fall in the category of things you love, it might fall in the category of things you don’t love.”

Advocating for someone else is a different story—and much easier, according to Fragale. “If I’m advocating on behalf of my client, there’s no real tension there, no real fear. Because if I’m advocating for somebody else, then I’m being other-oriented,” she says.

The trick is learning how to advocate for yourself as if you were advocating for someone else. Understanding that negotiation simply comes with the territory is step No. 1.

Operating Under a False Premise

According to Fragale, the reluctance to negotiate is often fueled by a false premise: If we don’t negotiate, people will like us better. But this is not the case, she says. “I can’t tell you how many times someone in a position of authority has said to me, ‘This person didn’t even try to advocate for themselves, and if they can’t advocate for themselves, I’m highly concerned about their ability to advocate within this organization.’”

Her lesson: In opting out of negotiating and advocating for yourself, you think you’re building your reputation, but in actuality you’re damaging it.

The Science of Prenegotiating

“Negotiation is a series of stages that start before a conversation,” Fragale says. This is synonymous with simply proper planning.

Fragale continues: “Here’s what we know: We don’t plan enough. We’re busy. We don’t really know what we’re doing. We just go in and we have the conversation. Most negotiation failures are planning failures.”

Fragale says that’s good news and bad news. “The bad news is you have to plan. The good news is you don’t have to be good on your feet. That’s not what distinguishes really good negotiators. What distinguishes them is they’ve put in the work to get the data, to plan, to be able to build credible arguments, et cetera.”

Having this knowledge and being prepared cancels out gender differences and expectations when negotiating, she says. “When women are given good information in a negotiation about what the top outcome is, what one should be looking for, what would be a minimally acceptable outcome, what the alternatives are if the conversation doesn’t work out, all of the gender differences essentially go away.”

Yeah, but Why?

“We always need reasons why. Every time we have a reason for what we’re doing or what we want, it’s more likely to be accepted,” Fragale says.

She presented an example of how having a “why” works even when it’s not a strong one. In a study, people were presented with a rushing person trying to cut in line to copy photos. The first time, no reason was given. Most people don’t step aside.

“But if you say, ‘Hey, I need to make some copies because I’m in a rush, a lot more people comply. A lot more people would step aside and let me cut in line because I added the fact that I was rushing,” Fragale says.

The third reason is not a reason at all but still worked: “I’d like to use the copy machine because I need to make copies.” Despite this, compliance was just as good, almost 100 percent. This explains why Fragale always tells people, “Bad reasons are better than no reasons at all.”

Want to hear more about the power of negotiating? Catch Fragale at Smart MeetingsSmart Women Summit at Resorts World Las Vegas Sept. 14-15.