A negotiation is a courtship; a dance where you take a few steps forward and a few steps back or sideways.  But ultimately, one leads and one follows.

So why are women, who can often successfully bust a move on the dance floor, traditionally not great negotiators in the workplace?

Further studies show women are great at negotiating for others, it was just when they had to negotiate for themselves they came unstuck.

A study by the American Psychological Association in 2012 linked this back to women’s natural inclination to be advocates for others, rather than looking after themselves as well as they would look after others.

I’m sure none of this surprises you. But thankfully, just like a dance, you can learn the steps and you can practise to become a better negotiator.

Over the past 12 years, I have assisted a large number of candidates to successfully manage the process between employees and employers when it comes to negotiating salary packages.

While negotiating can be very daunting, it is easy to learn how to do it effectively and become advocates for ourselves.

Negotiating isn’t just about money

When the appropriate time comes, think about the total package and benefits on offer – this does not mean just the cash components plus super. Salary packages can also include car parks, professional development opportunities, gym memberships and extra annual leave.

Prior to the negotiations, work out what is important to you and those around you. I have worked with candidates who have indicated they want to take on further education to strengthen them in a relatively new area to their industry.

Through successfully negotiating, they were able to include professional development agreements into their salary package, which was a win-win for the company and the candidate.

The company was getting a staff member who was willing to learn more in their field (which was a new area/technology) and bring their new learnings to the office and share with their team.

This wouldn’t have happened if the candidate hadn’t mentioned it and come up with her own proposal during the negotiation process.

Determine what your parameters are for negotiation

Spend time predetermining what you are willing to accept (i.e. your minimum wage), what figure you will be happy with and what is important to you and your future goals.

A good negotiator will go into a meeting with clear figures in their head of what they are willing to accept, how low they will go, the ultimate figure they would be happy with and always a backup plan of what else they can suggest if they don’t achieve a figure they are happy with.

Research, research and…yes, more research

Don’t be underprepared when going into negotiations. Research the company and their history and their future plans. Read their annual reports and media releases.

If their reports show a strong growth plan for the next five years, put forward an option of a salary package that grows with the company based on KPIs. It’s the same when locking yourself into a home loan, you do your research about interest rates and what is the best option for you.

Why don’t we do the same for our career, which is longer than a 30-year home loan?

Why wouldn’t you do the same level of research for something as powerful for your future happiness at work?

Also make sure you know your market value. I would recommend starting with online salary guides and surveys, speaking to your industry body or association, and speaking to your recruiter. Your recruiter will have a good guide of what is reasonable and realistic within the current market.

By doing your research, you will be able to justify your proposal.

Choose the right time to raise the subject

Make sure you pick the appropriate time to discuss salary. Read the situation. Too often I see people bring salary up too early or too late.  It’s a fine line when it should be mentioned but it’s important you learn to determine when to bring this up.

You need to demonstrate your worth before discussing money. There are so many things you want to establish with your potential new employer, such as your fit for the role, qualifications and culture fit, before mentioning salary expectations.

Be aware of the power of relationships and language

Hannah Riley Bowles in her article, ‘Why Women Don’t Negotiate Their Job Offers’, uses Sheryl Sandberg, of Facebook, as a great example of successful negotiating. Sandberg suggests a ‘think personally, act communally’ strategy. The ‘I-we’ strategy involves asking for what you want, while signalling to your negotiating counterpart that you are also taking their perspective. So, how does it work?

“Sheryl says that in her negotiations with Facebook, she told them ‘of course you realise that you’re hiring me to run your deal team so you want me to be a good negotiator,” Bowles said.

“Sandberg wanted Facebook to see her negotiating as legitimate because if she didn’t negotiate, they should be worried about whether they’d made the right hire.

“Second, you want to signal to your negotiating counterpart that you care about organisational relationships,” she said.

“After pointing out that they should want her to be a good negotiator, Sheryl recounts saying, ‘this is the only time you and I will ever be on opposite sides of the table.’ In other words, ‘I am clear that we’re on the same team here.’”

While on language, don’t discount the power of small talk when negotiating.  As like a dance, you court your partner. You make small talk and develop a rapport or relationship. When tangoing, you don’t just jump straight into the dip, you work up to the technical dance step.

First, introduce yourself. Take a little time to get to know them and where they are coming from. This also goes a long way into building trust.

In a Stanford University study, called ‘Schmoose or Lose’, students who were encouraged to engage in small talk prior to negotiating were reportedly more likely to come to agreement than those students who didn’t.

Ask questions and listen

Great negotiators ask carefully thought out questions designed to better understand the other side’s interests.

“Don’t just ask people what they want; ask why they want it, for what purpose,” Jeff Weiss (a consultant who specialises in corporate negotiations and relationship management) advises.

“Moving from ‘the what’ to the ‘why’ gives you more grist for the collaborative mill. Rhetorical questions are also no-no.

“Asking questions like ‘don’t you think this is fair?’ simply paints others into a corner,” Weiss explains.

Always have a Plan B up your sleeve

I am constantly shocked when I ask candidates and clients what they will do if the other person doesn’t agree to their first option.

A good negotiator will have a Plan B of what they are willing to accept. This takes into account the deciding factors from the above tips.

For example, if during the negotiation process, an employer mentions that they are unable to afford the salary you want at the moment, see if they are open to including performance-based incentives or bonuses.

Once you have been in the role for three months or six months, you could suggest building in bonuses based around measurable results.

Overall, it’s critical to get this negotiation right, as you need to feel as though the employer understands your potential value to the organisation, while at the same time not tarnishing the potential employment relationship before it even starts.

When you really put your mind to it and apply these tips, it will ensure you and your employer are dancing to the same song.

Rochelle Munro is the Group Manager of Davidson Corporate