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Victoria Pynchon

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Differences in Men's and Women's Conflict Negotiation Styles

I'm blogging about gender and negotiation this month because March is National Women's History Month and March 8th was the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day (commenced in 1910, a full decade before the Nineteenth Amendment would grant U.S. women the right to vote). 

Today I stumbled over the post Women Deal with Conflict Differently than Men, reporting on a study done by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard in 2008.  Results of the study showed the following similarities between men and women including:

  • Integrating, the ability to meet the needs of both parties; and,
  • Compromising as a strategy, except women showed a "high level of agreement that every issue has room for negotiation"

The differences included:

  • women's tendency to choose equal distributions when compromising which the researchers apparently ascribed to women's greater concern with fairness;
  • competitiveness - with men scoring 25% more competitive than their female counterparts
  • "smoothing," with women engaging in that behavior 20% more of the time than men - smoothing being defined as "giving in to the other party while ignoring one's own needs"
  • avoiding or withdrawing with women doing so 30% more than men
  • expressing feeling, with women apparently doing so "more" than men but no percentages are provided

We'll be working with gender differences through the end of the month of March and will likely discuss this data in more detail later.

Comments (11)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
Debra Healy - March 22, 2010 11:45 AM

Good Morning -

I'd be interested in knowing if women negotiate differently with men than with other women. I'm sure someone must have researched this at some point. . .

Looking forward to more on this.

Debra Healy
Healy Conflict Management Services

Vickie Pynchon - March 22, 2010 9:02 PM

This is from the Harvard Working Knowledge website:

In a survey where there was potential to "expand the pie," Riley said, "what we found is that men were better at claiming the pie. On the other hand, woman-woman dyads were the best at expanding the pie."


Ann Begler - March 22, 2010 9:32 PM

I think Debra's question is an interesting one. I think it's a place to be careful, as well. I find nothing quite as distressing as making assumptions about the women who are involved in a negotiation, then finding out that all of my assumptions are out the window. I assume they care about issues in the way I do, think the way I do, etc. Silly of me - just look at the replays of the R women in the room with Stupac last night. Look forward to seeing more about this if something turns up.

Debra Healy - March 23, 2010 9:40 AM

Thanks, Vickie and Ann.

Considering the range of potential dynamics involved (e.g., the relationship between the parties, the issues, the conditions in which they're negotiating), I imagine it would be difficult to get too specific about differences between the ways women negotiate with other women as opposed to how women negotiate with men.

I brought this issue up with a certain incident in mind. When I was training in kung fu, I was surprised at how angry and adamant a male student was about a situation in which a woman had consciously acquiesced to being raped.

Having been a martial arts instructor for a number of years, this woman contemplated the circumstances as calmly as possible - the rapist had her on her back with a knife at her throat. Her goal was to survive - and she accomplished that.

Yet, this male student was very upset and argued that the woman should never have acquiesced to being raped. He was angry that she showed what he perceived as weakness.

Meanwhile, I was thinking about what incredible strength it must have taken for this woman to consider her options and negotiate the best outcome she saw for herself under such dire

I'd love to hear some thoughts on this.


Vickie Pynchon - March 23, 2010 12:19 PM

Don't make it too easy, Debra . . .

But, seriously. My gut tells me that this response is shame driven (by what you'll never know). I could, however, create a fictional character who would respond in this fashion to someone who allowed themselves to be violated rather than risking death to maintain the integrity of their personal boundaries.

My character would be harboring a terrible secret about a violation of his personal space in which he felt in some way complicit. This is a common response of children who have been sexually abused. Many of them are suffused with shame and feelings of self-loathing. They blame themselves for what has been done to them.

Adults have choice. Children do not.

Nor do prisoners, who also often feel complicit about emotional and physical abuse suffered at the hands of those who torment or torture them.

Let's not take the easy "I'm a sexual abuse survivor" story line on this one. Let's say our fictional character was himself a tormentor - that he'd been forced to water board suspected terrorists. (if you're a Lost fan, think of Sahid).

Let's assume one of his victims committed suicide after a water boarding session. Our character is steeped in shame because he didn't resist the chain of command that ordered him to do this thing. He cannot forgive himself. Learning of his classmate's acquiescence to her rapist's violation revivifies his own experience - an experience about which he remains in denial. He cannot admit to himself that he made a choice to save himself and that the legacy of that decision will never leave him. If only he had resisted, his internal life would not be the living hell it is right now.

It appears to our character that this woman has forgiven herself, which enrages him. Anger - and its violent cousin rage - consolidates our sense of self when we are feeling powerless. This woman acknowledged her powerlessness; took responsibility for her complicity in her own victimization; and, moved on.

Our character cannot do this. In the last chapters of this character's story, he will once again face a similar choice. If we are up to the task of writing a tale of redemption, we will do what writer Flannery O'Connor instructed us to do - create a character in a situation that calls upon him to behave IN character while going BEYOND character.

Make sense?

Debra Healy - March 23, 2010 12:53 PM

Oh, yes - makes total sense.

My male classmate's reaction was a little more over the top than some of the other men in this advanced class.

But, what I guess what I didn't say was that the majority (maybe all?) of male students expressed the belief that this woman's response showed weakness. It was very strange to them, and upset them, when I indicated that I thought she'd show incredible strength. (It was an interesting culture to participate in for a number of years.)

I feel like I'm circling around something but not quite hitting the mark regarding how women negotiate, for example, with men perceived to be in positions of power.

Weakness/strength in negotiation can be a matter of perception and perspective.

I know I'm probably not making any sense. Story of my life. :)

Thanks for your wonderful input.

Vickie Pynchon - March 23, 2010 1:14 PM

Debra -

What you're circling around is not an issue personal just to you. Right now I'm just going to say - READ MY BOOK! or . . . take the Negotiation Class at Craving Balance. Both will help you provide the answers to the question you and the rest of the world keeps on circling - when to accomodate; when to retaliate; when to cooperate; when to challenge.

Here's the link for the class - it would be great to have you in it! Lisa Gates is offering to refund the money of anyone who doesn't get far more value out of the course than its $127 cost.


Debra Healy - March 23, 2010 1:44 PM

Hey, Vickie -

I signed up for the Negotiation Class last weekend. :)

Thanks for your time this morning.

Take care.

Ann Begler - March 23, 2010 6:58 PM

Fascinating conversation. I actually had a much more simple thought about it that just has to do with gender and culture. A possibility is merely that this man, and others, have honestly never had the experience of being in such a life-threatening situation couple with their stereotypic upbringing about having to fight. It's hard for them to even begin to imagine being in a situation such as the one this woman was in. They do not have the experience many women have of constantly looking over their shoulders no matter where they are, walking alone, etc. Always the consciousness of vulnerability.

I don't think this necessarily transfers to weakness in negotiation. In fact, this sensitivity may well lead women to much better understand when the other side is 'serious,', when there is 'danger' of a deal falling apart. I don't think it means, at all, always
"giving in."

May write more later. I'm going to try to support Pattie Porter by listening to her blog radio tonight.

Really look forward to an in-person with both of you one of these days.


Debra Healy - March 23, 2010 7:30 PM

Hi, Ann -

When I taught womens' self-defense, I suggested to women that they listen and act on their instincts: If something inside you says "Don't enter the parking garage alone this evening" - adhere to that...not to the little voice that's saying "Oh, don't be silly...it'll be fine."

I think the reaction of the men in my class supports the findings that men tend to react to conflict competitively - whether or not it might be to their detriment. Similar to what you wrote - responding in your own best interest isn't "giving in" (weakness) any more than insisting on competing is "winning" (strength).

Thanks for joining in this discussion. I'm looking forward to more you might have to say. :)

And, yes - an in-person conversation would really be nice.

Take care.

Ann Begler - March 23, 2010 8:23 PM

Debra, your comment reminds me of what I always call the "prickly skin" test. If I suddenly have this sensation of prickly skin it means, "pay attention." If I really pay attention I have no question about what to do. My inside voice is very clear. And, I agree, the deal then is to really act on it, not second guess...very on the same page with you! :)

Vickie, thanks for starting the conversation!

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