Whether it’s negotiating a business arrangement with a client or bedtime with your teenager, collaboration is key to striking a deal.

This was the message delivered by Karen Hough between laughs and lunch at KeyBank’s annual Key4Women Forum at Hotel Murano this afternoon.

The event, part of KeyBank’s program to educate and empower women, was designed to help women become better negotiators.

The problem isn’t women are bad negotiators; we just don’t do it enough, Hough said.

Hough, an Amazon best-selling author and founder and CEO of ImprovEdge, and a former professional improviser and actress, integrated role-playing into her presentation Tuesday. She entered the room, in character, as a positional negotiator — she was stonewalling her imaginary business partner.

“You said, ‘$4.95,’” she said over and over, and over again.

This is often the way we see successful negotiators portrayed on TV, but it’s not the best way to strike a deal, Hough told the women in attendance.

Instead of saying “no,” she says, “say, ‘yes and… .'” You’ll get more information that way.

Over the course of our careers, women will leave $500,000 on the table. It starts with $4,000 — the average difference in starting salary between men and women, and with a three percent annual salary increase it adds up to half a million.

Women, for example, might not apply for a job for which they exceeded all the qualifications but lacked a MBA. Men, on the other hand, would say, “I have a MBA in life,” and go for it, Hough said.

The audience laughed, but knew it was true.

“You learn a lot without knowing you’re learning,” said Marie Bok, certified public accountant at Doty, Beardsley, Rosengren & Co. “I didn’t realize I was learning I talk myself out of things, not just at work, but at home. But, it’s better for women to learn that.”

We need to use our advantages to make ourselves better negotiators, Hough said. We are good at asking questions. We prefer negotiation to conflict. And, we can read body language.

Humor, as Hough demonstrated, also seems to help.

Nita Cook, senior loan officer at Primary Residential Mortgage, represented these three (or four) attributes in a role-play with Hough, who she was trying to sell a diamond to.

In the first scene, Hough refused to even look at the diamond, but Cook persisted.

“You remind me of my daughter. It felt like I was negotiating with a teenager,” Cook told Hough after the scenario.

In the second scene, Hough was trying to redirect the conversation away from the diamond, but Cook responded to her advances before getting back to her pitch. That time, she got Hough to accept the diamond.

“I like agreement over conflict. I thought of it as a pitfall, but it’s not,” Cook said after the event.

“It’s really important we hear these things. You can learn to be a better negotiator at life and at work,” said Therese Pasquier, director of business development for Paladina Health in Tacoma.

Hough’s advice, though, doesn't apply to just women. Steven Maxwell, local president of KeyBank and perhaps the only man in the room, was able to take something away as well.

“I learned a lot today — a lot I can take back to the office and a lot I can take back to my 13-year-old daughter and son,” he said.