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Victoria Pynchon

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She Negotiates

She Negotiates

The 33 cent wage and income gap is unacceptable and unnecessary. So is the cliché glass ceiling. Bottom line, our...

Are Men Bad Negotiators?

We've been talking about women's negotiation deficits for so long that we've completely neglected the men. This post is an attempt to cure that omission. Listen guys! We care about you. And we'd like to help you with your negotiation problem. 

But let's start where we've been for the past ten years ever since Linda Babcock of the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women published Women Don't Ask

In Speaking Out About Women And Power, U.C. Berkeley Psychology Professor Tania Lombrozo describes a study in which women experienced gender blow back when they voiced their opinions “too ardently.” The social scientists conducting that study asked a group of men and women to evaluate a hypothetical CEO who was described as offering opinions as much as possible or as withholding opinions.

Unsurprisingly, female CEOs who offered opinions frequently were judged less competent and less suited to leadership than their sister CEOs who withheld their opinions. Equally unsurprising was the way in which the study judged the men – as more competent and better suited to leadership if they spoke up often and less so if they didn’t.

Too many people have concluded from studies like these that women are stuck between a gender rock and leadership hard place but men are not.

As Lombrozo is quick to note, however, men faced a complementary danger: of being perceived as poor leaders if they didn’t voice their opinions. Members of both sexes were penalized for failing to conform to traditional gender stereotypes.

Listen. We are all judged according to the culture’s expectation for our behavior. Women are expected to be kind, patient, tolerant, loving, giving and self-effacing. Men are expected to be judgmental, tough, self-seeking and self-promoting. We all suffer social sanctions – from harsh judgments to electoral defeats – when we step outside of society’s expectations.

Those who would caution us to “act our role” or suffer the consequences, however, are missing the bigger picture, as are those who urge us to ape the style of the opposite gender. Let’s take negotiation as our example.

In a recent article at Huffington Post, Joan Williams writes that women don’t negotiate because they’re not idiots, citing yet another study confirming the imposition of social sanctions on women who negotiate outside their gender role. Sara Laschever, co-author, with Linda Babcock, of Women Don’t Ask and Ask for It, immediately dropped by to assert that Williams’ article mischaracterized Babcock’s findings, explaining that the "study used only used one negotiation script, in which both the male and female negotiators asked for higher pay in a fairly aggressive way.


The study didn’t produce any insights about whether style or approach matter because it only used that one script and didn’t compare styles. The good news is that Linda Babcock and Hannah Bowles have since shown pretty conclusively that it does matter how women negotiate (although their asking style doesn’t matter for men) and identified strategies that get around the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma.

When you give the same script to hypothetical male and female negotiators, the artificial construct you create does not replicate the real life differences in the way men and women negotiate. You might as well have them reading Little Red Ridding Hood – one aggressively and one soothingly – and then ask study participants to judge which one is showing “leadership” capacity and which is frightening the wits out of the kiddies before bedtime.

A trained negotiator will always have a better script than someone who has not been trained. Negotiation skills are learned. They are not secondary sexual characteristics. Men who cleave to gender roles – forceful speech, talking more than they listen, being combative, pounding on tables, storming out of rooms, threatening adverse consequences – may be judged by third parties as being better leaders but they will rarely negotiate better deals.

The negotiation of better deals requires listening more than speaking. It requires the use of collaborative communication styles and speech that are calculated to encourage mutual problem solving. Negotiation impasse followed by legal violence (litigation) or actual fisticuffs (terrorism, torture, war) are far more likely to result from negotiation tactics tailored to “male” gender roles than those expected of women.

Interest-based negotiation, well-known to deliver the optimal negotiation results for both parties, requires us to ask our bargaining partners a sufficient number of questions to ascertain their interests (preferences, priorities, fears, needs, desires, attitudes toward the future); to learn the identity of absent stakeholders whose opinions will affect the final decision; and, to unearth the hidden constraints that might prevent a deal from being reached.

Interest-based negotiation is a natural for women who do not need to puff out our chests, brandish semi-automatics, rattle swords, take uncompromising positions, bully, bluster or fill the room with long rants about the rectitude of our positions and the stupidity of our opponent’s.

It’s not, after all, style that makes a durable, creative, mutually beneficial and ultimately satisfying deal for both parties. It’s substance that makes the difference.

Academics who use a single script for any leadership or negotiation scenario to determine who seems to be the better leader are missing the point. When hiring a lawyer or a consultant, I really couldn’t care less about “style.” What I care about are results. What I care about are solutions.

Here’s something you will never hear: “I’m sorry. It’s true that Joan got me $4.5 million more than John was able to deliver in the last negotiation session. But I don’t like her style.” Both men and women can be trained to accomplish these tasks. The fact that women tend to ask more questions, encourage more collaboration and refrain more often than men from “take it or leave it” demands, suggests that we will be more naturally adept at creating better deals if we get the training we need.

We shouldn’t, however, rule out the guys out just because they’re not naturally suited to the best negotiation strategies and tactics. They can learn too. 

Comments (3)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
Michele Dorsey - April 27, 2013 6:50 PM

You are quite right. I am a trained and seasoned negotiator and have seen many different styles. I can work with most of them, but it is the results that count. I would put my record up against any male counter part, any time.

Cherry Woodburn - April 28, 2013 4:34 PM

I liked this post and agree with most of what you wrote.

I think it's possible that you would hear “I’m sorry. It’s true that Joan got me $4.5 million more than John was able to deliver in the last negotiation session. But I don’t like her style.” What the ramifications of this statement would be, e.g. fire Joan, probably not. But I've seen successful women bullied into no-win situations because their "style" wasn't liked.

Frankly that can happen to a man too but not as readily.

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