How to Like–and Master–Negotiation

two women shaking hands after negotiations, vector illustration

Photo credit: (AlonzoDesign)

Negotiation can be a triggering word, especially for women, as Meg Myers Morgan, Ph.D., said in a recent talk at the 2024 National Conference for Women. 

But Morgan is on a campaign to reclaim negotiation as a way to simply ask for what you need in the workplace, at home, or anywhere else. That begins, she says, by dispelling some common myths, including that negotiation is about conflict, being manipulative, and a zero-sum game. 

To each of those, Morgan says nope. 

  • Negotiation is not about conflict; it’s about collaboration. 
  • Negotiation is not about being manipulative; it’s about leveraging your worth for something you value. 
  • Negotiation is not a zero-sum game; it is always about a win-win result. 

So, how has she learned this about negotiation and how to negotiate effectively? 

Yes, she has worked with hundreds of people to negotiate higher salaries, better work schedules, and stronger professional relationships. She’s written the book Everything Is Negotiable. She’s an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma and received her executive and leadership coaching certification from Columbia University. 

But the real story begins with watching her daughters. 

Morgan joined us recently for a conversation about what she learned from her daughters, how to “own the terms” in negotiation, why you shouldn’t necessarily believe that there has to be a trade-off between career advancement and flexible work schedules–and what humor has to do with it. 

Here are excerpts from our conversation. 

CFW: Your latest book, Everything is Negotiable, is the second of three books that have “negotiation” in the title. So, I’m wondering, is there something in your life journey that made negotiation so important to you? 

Meg Myers Morgan: Yes, the accidental negotiation expert. I took my role as a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma around the same time I had my youngest child. 

So I was coaching, counseling, and advising these women in graduate school, and I noticed that they were hedging on any negotiation, whether it was the career or salary they wanted. Some even struggled to ask their spouses at home for more help. 

Then, I would come home to these two little girls who had no problem negotiating because they would ask for what they wanted. They didn’t care what we thought about them. They were so confident they didn’t mind if they were asking over and over and over. 

There is something really beautiful about watching children and young people have that ability to know: “I’m hungry,” “I’m angry,” “I’m whatever.” And most notably, “I don’t care if it bothers you that I need this. I’m going after this need.” 

I started looking at these two experiences and wondered, ‘At what point in our trajectory as women do we lose that ability?’ And I thought, maybe I could look at what they do, model it for myself, and teach it to others, and then we could hold onto it. It’s become my life’s work at this point.

CFW: You identify yourself and your family as proud members of the Cherokee Nation. Is there anything from that part of your life that has influenced your work?

Morgan: I was born in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma, which is where all of the Native Americans were essentially put. And I felt growing up that we were all Native American. I did not realize that other people were not so much. 

So when I took the faculty position, I was maybe three or four years in, and my department chair called and said, “Do you happen to be Native American?” And my response was, “Yes, aren’t you?” That’s how ingrained it was in me. They said, “No, you’re the only faculty member, one of the few at the university, one of very few in our field.”

So then it started this almost identity of both the privilege and disadvantage–of not knowing I was so different and then being in a position of feeling different. It has allowed me to see the side of the privileged and the underprivileged in a way that is helpful when you think about negotiating. 

CFW: In Everything is Negotiable, you write about “owning the terms” of a negotiation. Would you talk about that and how it applies if, for example, I’m going into a negotiation to ask for what I want?

Morgan: While I do a lot of actual salary negotiation, training, and coaching, I mean this in a broader sense of how you carry yourself and think about yourself. I have found that women are more likely to allow their circumstances or other people to determine who they are and their worth. So many times, people will also go in and say, “I would like a raise. What do you think it’s appropriate?” 

Owning those terms sometimes comes down to how we talk about ourselves and think about what we need and want. It’s this concept of starting with who I am and building out. For me, it is being able not to be clouded by other opinions. It means walking into a room and saying this is what I want.  

CFW: What happens when wants seemingly conflict? For example, I’ve seen articles that say remote work is good for the flexibility it provides women, but it may make career advancement less likely.

Morgan: Negotiation matters on the context in which you’re negotiating. Four or five years ago, most working women wanted that flexibility and to stay home and work. And the context wasn’t there. Employers were just like, we don’t offer that. Then, one day, there was the pandemic, and suddenly, everybody could do it. The context changed.

So, I think it’s a scare tactic to talk about advancement as opposed to flexibility, and I would encourage women to push back against that. It is sometimes an effort to get us back into the office for whatever reason. 

I always say that negotiating is leveraging your worth for something that you value. So, again, think about owning those terms versus what others tell you it should mean. Being able to work remotely has changed my life and made me better in my role. 

CFW: You’re saying these are false dichotomies. 

Morgan: Yes. 

CFW: Finally, humor plays a big role in your writing and speaking. Does it ever have a place in negotiation? 

Morgan: YES. Negotiation often feels like a conflict to people. Women, in particular, are usually conflict-averse. And so we kind of have this anxiety that comes up when having a tough interaction, somebody a difficult conversation with somebody. 

But when I talk to people, I say, look, you’re just collaborating. This is a collaboration. You’ll walk out, and everyone will be happy or mildly unhappy, whatever the case. 

And so if humor is a way that you relate to people, my gosh, that’s good to bring in. If that’s not how you relate to people, that’s probably not the time to try it. But by and large, humor is the great equalizer, and negotiation is about equalizing the space, attention, and power in the room. 


Meg Myers Morgan spoke at the 2024 National Conference for Women.