Interview with She Negotiates' Lisa Gates: How to Name the Elephant and Lead Negotiation Conversation

Interview with She Negotiates' Lisa Gates: How to Name the Elephant and Lead Negotiation Conversation

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Lisa Gates is my good friend and mentor who taught me nearly everything I know about teaching negotiation to professional women. She's also the co-founder and chief inspiration officer of She Negotiates, a leading negotiation consulting and leadership coaching company for women. In this interview, she shares timeless tips and pearls of wisdom on how women can cut through unconscious bias in the workplace, lead the conversation, and signal their potential for career advancement through storytelling. Learn more about She Negotiates at

Full Episode Transcript

Hello! Welcome to Episode 30 of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. I’m your host and coach, Jamie Lee.

This episode is being published late because I had a last-minute business trip this week. I was in Huntsville, Alabama to deliver a keynote speech for the U.S. Women in Nuclear Conference as well as a day-long workshop on everyday workplace negotiation skills.

It was a phenomenal event and I got this gig through Lisa Gates, She Negotiates co-founder and negotiation and leadership coach who also happens to be my good friend and mentor. She was booked to deliver the keynote and the workshop at U.S. Women in Nuclear Conference this year. Due to an unforeseen circumstance, she couldn’t make it and so I replaced her. She called me last Thursday morning and on this Monday, so four days later, I was on a flight to Huntsville, Alabama!

It was a phenomenal opportunity for me and it just goes to show how awesome it is to have people in your network who know you, who know the caliber of your work, who trust you to even fill in for them. And it was a tremendous opportunity for me to connect with some really amazing women who are doing cutting-edge work in the forefront of clean energy.

Today, I have a special treat for you. Lisa couldn’t make the conference but before the event she and I recorded this interview and in this interview, she shares some really timeless tips and pearls of wisdom on how women can cut through workplace biases and get heard and lead the conversation and signal their potential for career advancement within the context of a workplace negotiation.

Lisa is a negotiation and leadership coach and she sees her role as Chief Inspiration Officer. She operates under the radical philosophy that there is nothing wrong with women, which I love. In fact, she likes to ask, “What would the world look like if everyone negotiated like a woman?”


I like that question.

She combines storytelling, career development strategies, and collaborative negotiation best practices and then she nests them in women’s lived experiences to come up with solutions that help them become daily askers and confident actors in work and life. Lisa is amazing. So, without further ado, here’s the interview with Lisa Gates, co-founder of She Negotiates.

Jamie: Hi, Lisa.

Lisa: Hey, Jamie Lee, how are you?

Jamie: I’m doing well. Thanks so much for joining me on the podcast today.

Lisa: I’m really glad you invited me. Thank you.

Jamie: I’m really glad you made it. So, I want to hear from you about a negotiation that had the biggest impact in your life or career.

Lisa: In my life or career...probably both. You know this story because we’ve talked about it, but this is a really the story where I learned that I was actually in a negotiation and then how to duplicate it later on with great mentoring by a boss of mine.

Jamie: Okay.

Lisa: Yeah, so I was working in a public relations firm as the Coordinator of New Business, working for the VP of New Business. I was kind of a glorified secretary and I had a commute. I was living in LA. I had this really long commute. It was actually only about 18 miles but it would take me an hour, an hour and a half, and by the time I got to work I was always frustrated and angry from the drive.

And this went on for several weeks, about six weeks, when I went into my boss’s office really in a kind of breakdown. I was crying, which is really a great way to start a negotiation, had I known I was in one. And you know, I’m whining and I’m crying and I’m saying, “I hate this job. I just can’t stand the commute and it’s just really difficult to land and do anything of value for about an hour. So it’s just this huge waste of time.”

And he looked at me and I’m babbling and he says, “Do you have a question in there?” And I was just sort of dumbfounded. I thought I was just gonna get to complain and he was gonna wave the magic wand. And I said, “No,” and he said, “No. Think about it. What kind of a question do you need to ask me?” And it took me a minute to think and finally I said, “How about if I come in at say 10 or 11 o’clock and leave at, say, oh, I don’t know, 6 or 7?”

His answer was, “Okay.” I was completely shocked that he would even consider that. I thought I was being funny. And then he added this little piece where he said, “Tell me why that would be of benefit to me? Why would that be of value to me?”

Jamie: Oh!

Lisa: And I said, “Well, I can be your closer, right? I can make sure everything’s buttoned up at the end of the day, all the straggler pieces are kind of nailed down for a presentation that might be happening the next day.” And he said, “There you go.” He said, “You gotta ask and your ask always has to have a benefit to your conversation partner.”

Jamie: Mmm, that’s a good lesson.

Lisa: It was a huge lesson and I can’t say that in the moment I was completely aware that oh, this is a negotiation strategy but as I went through my career and started to learn more, I always harken back to that experience because it had so much value in so many ways. Just asking, period. Noticing that there’s something wrong and that you might have a solution. So, that was the other piece of it, he would always tell us, “Turn your complaints into solutions.”

Jamie: And benefit, offers of benefit.

Lisa: Offer a benefit and you and I both know that’s the key to a good ask.

Jamie: Right. I mean, now we know it because you and I both work as negotiation coaches.

Lisa: Right.

Jamie: You are the mentor who really taught me everything I know about how to teach negotiation skills, especially to women professionals, so it’s my deep privilege to have you and share your awesome insights and wisdom with us.

So, I’m curious. For the benefit of our listeners, would you share with us what your journey was that led you to become a negotiation coach for women?

Lisa: Thanks for that question, and I just have to back up a little. I really appreciate that you say that I was your mentor. You had so many chops when I met you, so don’t undersell yourself. You’re pretty amazing in your own right.

Jamie: Thank you.

Lisa: I trained and certified to be a coach around 2005, 2006 and after a few years of coaching mostly women I started to notice this pattern. Women were super fabulous at designing a career strategy and creating accountabilities and plans and they knew where they were going. That was the work that we did. But when it came to asking for promotions or raises or workplace kinds of things that were important to them to achieve, they just kind of stumbled.

They resisted, they avoided, they said, “I really can’t do this. It makes me nervous.” So, I decided to learn myself, what is this negotiation thing and why are women so afraid of it? And the first book I read was Women Don’t Ask and Victoria, my business partner and I had this similar reaction to it. We got about seven pages in and threw it across the room because it was so annoying to read all the statistics about how we behave and what was stopping us.

Jamie: And was it maddening because it was true or because it’s not true?

Lisa: Oh, because it was true. And also because we couldn’t believe it was true. These things are hindering and hampering me and everyone else? Really?! So a piece of self-awareness started to just percolate and we started to just rewind through your whole life, your whole career and look at all those places where, oh yeah, I didn’t even know that I could ask. I didn’t even think to ask.

So, there was that piece and then Victoria and I had been friends for a while. As writers, we followed each other around the planet, on the internet planet, and I called her up one day and said, “Why don’t we build a workshop for my clients and whoever else we want to invite from social media, people we know out there in the world?”

So we built this six week, online workshop and after the first session, we hung up and I called her back and said, “Oh my God, this is not a workshop, this is a business.” Because just in that first meeting, women were so hungry, it was like a sponge, they were like sponges devouring the water, you know, the negotiation water. There was a lot of desperation and confusion, so that’s our birth story.

Jamie: Now I’m curious. What was the biggest confusion around negotiation?

Lisa: Part of it was, it’s a thing that happens in two parts, even still with clients today and when I teach and train and do workshops, it’s apparently sort of confidence issues, self-awareness about your capacities, your strengths, all of the things that you bring to your role that you might not have your arms wrapped around well enough, right?

And then the other piece is actually the actual strategies and tactics, you know, getting super pragmatic about when do I anchor and how do I frame this in a way that helps them see a possibility for themselves or helps them see me in the light that I want to be seen in? So those are very tactical things that we have to learn how to do and as you know from working together, we like to simplify and make it as easy as possible to learn these things and not make it so complex that it feels like you’re in a hostage negotiation, right?

Jamie: It can definitely feel like one.

Lisa: Yeah! Help me out of this! I’m gonna lose my family! They’re gonna kill me! They’re gonna kick me out! I know. So, it’s those two places, the emotional place, the self-awareness, the self-acceptance, all of that, yeah.

Jamie: So on that note, what top three pieces of advice do you have for women who want to close their wage gaps and sidestep gender blowback?

Lisa: Ohhh, sidestep gender blowback, let me tackle that one. I don’t think you can sidestep bias. I think you have to be willing to walk through it, right?

Jamie: Interesting.

Lisa: Because you become aware of bias doesn’t mean it’s not gonna happen, right? So you can’t tiptoe around it and get where you need to go. You need to name that elephant as it happens. So if you’ve been passed over two and three times for a promotion, are you just gonna take it? Or are you actually gonna be transparent and talk about, look I’ve been passed over a few times and each time, Joe and Dave and Don get the role? I can’t help but think this is gender-based, help me walk through this. How do you see it? What would you do if you were me?

So, I just feel that especially now with the Me Too movement, in a way corporate America has sort of co-opted the initial meaning of the Me Too movement. There’s this other leg of it, which is economic disempowerment. The biases creating roadblocks to our financial well-being, so we have to talk about it. We have to bring it up when it happens. You know, somebody is mansplaining or talking over you or interrupting you in a presentation, you need to deal with those things as they happen or soon after they happen.

Jamie: So instead of sidestepping it, step right through it!

Lisa: Like a cow patty!

Jamie: Right, because bias is something that we all struggle with, isn’t it? I mean, who among us is not, I mean, people will say, “I’m not biased,” but…

Lisa: Oh, right! I mean, you walk out your door and you have an opinion about the person who just walked in front of you. You’re making judgments about what they’re wearing and where they’re going and who they think they are and why they’re walking so fast. We have all these opinions, we’re human, it’s not something that we can change, but as our awareness ratchets up and especially collective awareness in our workplaces due to the work we do on gender bias training and implicit bias, all of that, anything we can do to ratchet up our ability to see it as it happens is great.

Jamie: So first, walk through it. I like that.

Lisa: Yep, walk through it. Name the elephant. And then the other thing, I think, is to take a leadership role in your interview process and what I mean by that, I wrote about this recently, that I think there are two questions we need to ask our prospective employers, or even if it’s a promotion conversation, asking: What is the company’s commitment to gender balance? Not only in leadership roles, but all along the path to promotion? What is your commitment? And let them explain who they are and what their vision is. And sometimes that might be kind of a stumping question, they might be stumped by it and not be able to answer it terribly well and that should be a red flag. Or you might hear some corporate speak that sounds okay, good, but it doesn’t have a lot of substance so you really have to perk up your ears for that answer.

And the other question I would ask is, what assurances can you give me that your offer will be in alignment with what men in similar roles are making? You just come out ahead of those questions.

Jamie: That’s a really good one.

Lisa: You kind of signal to them, hey, I’m expecting a market value offer. I’m expecting something in alignment with my experience, education, contributions, all of that. It’s similar to the first one, a lot of transparency and a lot of self-leadership.

Jamie: I know it’s, I’m going to be mixing up the metaphors here, but it also shows a lot of balls.

Lisa: Yeah, exactly! It does demonstrate, your directness demonstrates who you are as a leader and how you’ll be for the future in that company. Now, if somebody kind of gets squirmy about that and feels like oh, wow, she’s kind of ballsy. She’s kind of bitchy/bossy/demanding. Well, maybe you just don’t want to work there. There are other fish in the sea and move on. Move on. It’s time for you to take care of yourself, to put yourself first.

Jamie: This reminds me, I have clients who are disheartened. People who work in technology, women who work in technology and they see management is all dudes, no women. And they want to work for companies that have gender diversity. They want to see that, not only are they saying they’re going to honor diversity, they’re actually doing it.

Lisa: Yeah and it’s kind of invisible, right? In many tech companies. So, bro culture is so on steroids that it’s hard to kind of push your way through by yourself, which is hard. This might lead into another tip, which is to really, really be building alliances and building your influence so that when it comes time for project x or new project y or a promotion or a raise conversation, that you have people in your back pocket that will back you up and echo your value. And that, I know, is difficult when there isn’t anybody who looks like you, right? So, it is not an easy task in many companies and instances to develop that kind of influence, but it still needs to be a part of your plan.

Jamie: This happened to me in the last tech company I worked at. I was the manager and I did have a person reporting to me who looked like me. She was a young, Asian woman in her 30s and she wanted a raise and she asked me to pitch on her behalf for management because I met with them every day as part of the daily management meeting. So I did, and I remember when I brought up that she wanted a raise, they looked at me and they said, “You’re sure this is what she wants?” I’m like “Yes, this is what she wants!”

Lisa: Oh, interesting little turn there. Curious how they turned it on you, or was it more about, “What do you mean she’s asking for a raise?”

Jamie: You know, it’s possible that I may have asked for a little bit more than…

Lisa: Oh, what a great manager to have!

Jamie: Yeah, I went to bat for her and then I just, I don’t know, I fattened the ball? It’s a terrible metaphor. And then they were like, “Wait, is that what she wants?” I’m like, “Yeah! That’s what she wants! Of course, she wants more!”

Lisa: First of all, that’s a great use of influence and I’m curious, when she asked you that, did you have any little bias hackles going up? Did you have a perception about her?

Jamie: It’s possible that my perception, you know, it’s true, my bias may have been that she’s asking for too little.

Lisa: Oh, wow, okay! How interesting. You were really protecting her. You were a good manager. And that’s what we’re talking about, how great it is to learn these skills, it’s not just about advocating for yourself, although put your oxygen mask on first, right? But advocating for others and having the, not just the chops to do it, but the understanding that thereby you build engagement and longevity in your employees.

Jamie: Right. And you know, she did end up taking over for me when I left and she did...for three, two more years, I think? So, yeah, just as you mentioned, longevity, engagement, it did happen.

Lisa: There you go. That’s awesome.

Jamie: Yeah, yeah.

Lisa: I love that story. I don’t remember you telling me that one. That was great. You know, okay there’s another point... The third point then, or the third tip is to learn how to tell great stories. So you’ve told me two stories, I’ve told you the birth story and the negotiation story. These are critical to people buying what you sell, loving what you offer, getting to know who you are. And I’m talking about a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. Crisis, drama, and resolution.

So, it’s one thing for somebody to say, “Tell me about yourself,” and you say, you know, give them your career credentials, but if you can back up your credentials...usually if you do that, you sort of say who you are, people will say, “Well, give me an example of when blah blah blah,” and that is an opportunity for a real, live story. Think of Cinderella is a rags to riches story and she’s forced to go live with her mean old stepsisters, and then, lucky her, she gets this invitation, she gets to go to the ball and complications set it. The crisis and drama starts to happen where she doesn’t make it in time because of the pumpkin, she loses her slipper and everything works out in the end because the prince saves her.

Well, that’s not a great, feminist story to tell, but we can turn it on its head to look at how you want to have those kind of elements in your story so that people can see how things were working, how they broke down and what kind of strategies you employed to turn things around. And lessons learned from that process.

Jamie: Yeah, that’s a good point because I’ve been reading this book, Conflict Management, and in it, it says that MIT researchers found that feelings is the most influential factor in negotiation outcomes. People are influenced by how they feel about their partner, how they feel about the negotiation outcome, how they feel about themselves and how they’re doing in the negotiation. And stories is the best way to get people to feel.

Lisa: That’s right! You know you think about the old, what is it? Logos, ethos, pathos? Right? You use logic but logic with emotion is, human beings connect with that kind of thing, we need it to make decisions. And it’s part and parcel of all the work I pretty much do with every single client is to really get at all the accomplishments and contributions and the history of your work and what those accomplishments reveal as your strengths, your capacities, your skills. And those accomplishments have a story behind them. The better ones have stories and it’s about identifying those so you can tell them in the interview process but also as part of your ask when you actually get to the point of saying, here’s what I really want.

Jamie: That’s really interesting because I know you have an acting background and when I watch emotionally gripping dramas on Netflix or whatever, there’s always a story that the hero tells as they’re coming to a critical decision or they’re reaching this shocking agreement with the enemy. Basically, they’re negotiating!

Lisa: That’s exactly right and we have come to expect it. We want logic and feels. How many times have we read, maybe it’s in old literature, but you know, do not be emotional, do not… you know, feeling is different than being emotional. Inducing feeling through story causes the other person’s one thing for me to say, “Hey, I’m really good at building Lego sculptures,” but if I tell the story about the last time I built a Lego sculpture and how many times it broke before I actually got it right, the other person is making all kinds of judgments and assessments and they’re making up their own story about your value. They’re seeing things that you might not even be meaning to convey. It’s like how somebody will read a piece of poetry and one person will say, “You know what I got out of that?” and they’ll talk about it and it will be completely different than what the author might have intended.

Jamie: Right, right.

Lisa: So it just allows people’s show versus tell.

Jamie: Show versus tell.

Lisa: Demonstrate versus just the facts, ma’am. Yeah, it’s super powerful.

Jamie: Yeah. You do powerful work with your clients. So, I’m sure people who are listening to this podcast are saying wow, this is really great stuff. I want to learn how to tell better stories. So, where can they go to learn more about you, your work at She Negotiates?

Lisa: They can knock on my door in California and say hi. They can take a train from New York to L.A., no, you can find me at and right from the homepage, leadership coaching and negotiation coaching are the two things we provide. And the occasional workshop, public workshop, so come on by. Sign up for the newsletter. Read the blog. See what you can learn. Lots of resources are downloadable on the website and come say hello!

Jamie: Alright, excellent. Well, Lisa, this has been really valuable and I really appreciate you taking the time again, and I will talk to you soon!

Lisa: Thank you so much, and great job on a really fun podcast.

Jamie: Thank you!

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