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Women in Leadership: Debunking negotiation myths with Wema Hoover

The DE&I leader shares how women can refine their negotiation skills in the workplace and create value at the negotiating table.

By Meaghan Murphy, Contributing Writer

Last updated August 16, 2023

High-stakes negotiations can be challenging for even the most seasoned executive. That’s something Wema Hoover—a veteran of Google, Pfizer, Sanofi, and Bristol-Myers Squibb—knows intimately. As a speaker and consultant, her mission is to “help people see and believe in a life without limit.”

The internationally recognized DE&I leader recently spoke during Zendesk’s Women in Leadership event on “Debunking negotiation myths,” sharing her insights for being an effective negotiator in today’s competitive business environment.

While Hoover covered a lot of ground during the discussion on July 20, 2023, here are some extra pointers from the Women in Leadership keynote speaker.

It’s all about emotional intelligence

“The skill to influence, to persuade, and to collaborate knows no gender, knows no boundaries—and it certainly knows no limits,” Hoover said in her opening remarks. She encouraged women to “leave behind the skepticism and the doubt” that can hold them back from leading effective negotiations.

Hoover also explained that being aggressive in the boardroom does not necessarily equal success. Instead, she suggested that women “tap into and expose the beauty of empathy, of emotional intelligence” that lies at the core of effective negotiations.

“Negotiations where women have been consistently successful are when they are negotiating for something deemed critical or a necessity for their family, their professional team—or advocating on behalf of someone who is seen as less powerful or as an underdog,” Hoover said. “This proves to be true because women’s success increases when the outcomes are directly correlated to a necessity, a need, or [the] well-being of others.”

“The skill to influence, to persuade, and to collaborate knows no gender, knows no boundaries—and it certainly knows no limits.”Wema Hoover

Acknowledging that men and women have distinct negotiation styles, Hoover said the reasons for the differences fall into three distinct categories: societal roles, unconscious bias, and emotional management.

In many countries, women and girls are expected to be accommodating and concerned with the welfare of others. This is deeply ingrained from a young age and follows many women into negotiations, where they may face backlash from their male peers for being too assertive and outspoken.

Hoover suggested that women use their emotional intelligence as a secret weapon in their negotiation strategy.

“Don’t be scared of your emotions,” Hoover said. “Take them, use them. Understand the power you have in them so that you can use empathy and understanding to connect.”

Mitigate imposter syndrome

One roadblock for women in negotiations is what Hoover refers to as “imposter syndrome.” This is when someone has the persistent inability to believe that their success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of their effort or skills.

It takes intentional thought to reverse this kind of pervasive self-doubt and succeed in the boardroom.

“Women should always come to negotiations with a clear sense of why they are uniquely qualified to be there—and to actively challenge any feelings of imposter syndrome,” Hoover explained. “Being able to articulate their experience, skills, and competence is critical to set the tone of negotiations, and—most importantly—build their own confidence to navigate through tough negotiations.”

To develop confidence and fight unconscious bias, Hoover believes that women need to remind themselves to recognize their own worth.

“Women must be intentional about not waiting to be granted permission to speak up and advocate for themselves and others,” Hoover said. “Women need to know and claim their worth while recognizing that permission does not need to be granted—because often, it never will be. Instead, seeing ourselves as competent, deserving, and, most importantly, worthy of what we desire and earn.”

There’s power in authenticity

Women succeed when they show up as their authentic selves, according to Hoover. This includes taking inventory of one’s strengths and skills—and not being afraid to show up.

“Women can share personal stories with their own networks of their successes, lessons learned, and strategies for managing difficult conversations,” Hoover said. “Silence is one of the biggest obstacles women face because we do not always provide other women the opportunity to learn from our experience—both good and bad. Live loudly—communicate, share, and empower other women through your life’s journey.”

Hoover also believes learning how to become your authentic self in business is a journey worth traveling.

“It’s the process, it’s not the outcome,” Hoover explained. “If you feel respected, if you feel heard, if you feel engaged, and you’re able to be your authentic self—everyone will feel like a winner.”

Don’t miss our next Women in Leadership event. Register now for “Re-engage Your Remote Workforce featuring Erin Stafford.”

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