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The Role of Negotiation to Gain or Retain Power

March 12th, 2020

The Role of Negotiation to Gain or Retain Power

By Carol Frohlinger, J.D.

President, Negotiating Women, Inc.
Speaker, Simmons Leadership Conference 2020

How do you define power? Can you share an example from your career when you asserted yourself to seize or retain your own power in a challenging situation?

The best way for me to answer this question is to think about power in the context of negotiation. Although positional power (e.g., derived from being the boss or the client) is the way we often think of power in a negotiation, it is far from the only important power. Personal power (derived from a combination of the right mindset and focused preparation) can also provide a great deal of leverage.

My story?

I was the first woman hired for a sales role at a B2B company. Not long after I took the job, the company’s annual sales retreat was scheduled; I was very excited. Then I found out that the venue was The Playboy Club in Great Gorge, NJ! Not to be deterred, I went anyway.

Upon arrival, I became acutely aware that I was the only woman wearing more than a bunny suit — not the Easter Bunny sort of bunny suit! The CEO remarked that I was fortunate that I had not be asked to share a room as the other (male) sales reps had to do. He also made it a point to tell me that the locations of our rooms — mine abutting the “Hospitality Suite” on one side and his adjacent to it on the other side was not a coincidence. Although I had been preparing myself mentally before, then I knew for sure that I’d have to negotiate well to survive the retreat and keep my job.

After dinner, the group retired to the Hospitality Suite where the alcohol flowed freely. When my colleagues got to the point that their jokes went beyond merely bawdy, I excused myself and went to bed. The phone in my room rang about an hour later. The CEO announced himself. Before he had a chance to say anything else, I said, “Oh, Mr. X, I’m not feeling well and just got to sleep. Thank you for calling, I’ll see you at the meeting in the morning.” Then I hung up the phone.

What did you learn from that experience?

I learned that anticipating a difficult situation and crafting a strategy to manage it is a smart thing to do and that negotiation can make all the difference in many kinds of situations we don’t usually think of as negotiation.

I wanted to avoid him asking me anything inappropriate directly because I had a strong feeling that if I said no, he would find a way to retaliate. He needed a way to save face and I had to give it to him.

Having a plan allowed me to avoid a #MeToo situation long before the movement had a name. Of course, there are many degrees of sexual harassment; luckily mine was not as serious as many others that involve criminal behavior.   

What major issue do you think women should focus on to effect change?

Women should identify the organizational impediments to their success as well as the success of others and negotiate to change them. They should create alliances with one another and like-minded male colleagues. They need to link the necessary changes to the good of the organization broadly as well as to the benefit of those who can influence the transformation.  Everyone involved needs to see how they will be better off when gender parity is finally achieved.

Fill in the blank. People would be surprised to know that…

I love to buy and send greeting cards – via snail mail! I know that e-cards are a lot easier (and less expensive) but I like to acknowledge birthdays and other occasions the old-fashioned way.


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