He Speaks, She Speaks

A gender communication specialist unravels the mystery of how men and women communicate.

Can Men Play the Negotiation Game Better than Women?

Can Men Play the Negotiation Game better than Women?

Sometimes women don't know that they can ask for something. Not socialized in the male competitive ways, many women don't realize that it's okay to ask for more pay or an extra vacation day. And when they do, they often ask for less and accept less in their bargaining. Ouch! Add this to the stereotype that women are poor negotiators, and the other side goes into the negotiation expecting to offer the woman less.

Not only is it okay to ask for more, but you deserve more. Studies and reports such as the classic ABC Primetime 1993 segment "The Fairer Sex" showed that women generally are given higher starting prices for cars than men, and women's final deal is often higher. This also happens to ethnic and racial minorities.

Salespeople sometimes discriminate[md]consciously or unconsciously. The salespeople also know that women are less likely to realize that they can negotiate, are less likely to do research on prices, and might be terrible negotiators anyway, per the stereotype. Women, start asking more often for what you want.

You've heard the saying "Be careful what you ask for; you might just get it." At one college training program, we met a woman who mentors female students. The mentor said she often tells the ones who hesitate to confront their professors to "strap on their girl balls and go for it." Not that woman have to act like men, but it's a reminder that women deserve more and that it's okay to take the risk and ask.

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I'm Afraid! Please Don't Hurt My Feelings

Are you nervous about negotiating? You're not alone. Many women express apprehension and extreme discomfort at the thought of having to negotiate. Some women never negotiate. Women tend to choose to negotiate less than men. Even when they are aware of the potential benefits (like a bigger salary), they often decide not to negotiate. Anxiety takes over.

Women worry about their skill level. "Will I succeed? Will I fail? What if I make a mistake, what if I give in, or what if they take advantage of me?" Women tend to be afraid of losing their friendship or relationship with the other person. What if I ask for too much money? Will they still like me? If the other side is angry or mean toward me, will my feelings get hurt?

For some women, it's almost like they need permission before they can request more. Some may lack confidence or not have enough self-esteem to realize that they should be asking.

It's not wrong to have some fear. Studies show that after negotiating, a woman's coworkers sometimes ignore her or give her a negative label.

Asking requires action. It's being assertive. Others may view the assertive behavior as unfeminine and may label her for that, too. It's not always pretty. It's a risk. But so is sitting back and choosing to do nothing.

According to Kathleen McGinn, a Harvard professor who researched negotiation, women do better when negotiating on behalf of others than for themselves. McGinn noted that the negotiation tends to be "demasculinized" when the woman feels that she's working for her group instead of grabbing everything for herself. Regarding salary negotiations, McGinn knows that women may be afraid of being seen as aggressive, but "the perception of you if you don't negotiate is much more negative than the perception of you when you do negotiate." Look at your situation. Keep the end picture in mind. We give you permission to do what's best for you!

Men Play the Game

When entering the workplace men tend to use the aggressive and competitive behaviors they usually learned as boys. They set out to win, speak up, go after what they want, go for the kill, and fight to the finish. Competition is a game; someone wins, someone loses. Men learn that there's nothing wrong with asking. In fact, part of the game is asking to see how much you can get.

Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, authors of the book Women Don't Ask, talk about a man who had been taught when growing up to always do his best. But that wasn't enough to get the promotions and excel the way he wanted at his career. Once he learned to "sell himself," regularly talk about his successes, persistently pursue his goals and let others know of his goals, ask for better projects that would specifically show his talents, and get the experience needed to move up the ladder, then his career started to move upward more rapidly. That sounds like a lot of work, and it can be scary at first. He admitted that he was initially afraid of what might happen. Not every request was met. However, management stayed aware of his goals and ideas. The more he asked and talked up his skills, the more secure he felt and the easier it got.

Babcock and Laschever noted that "women's greater reluctance to ask for what they want often prevents them from learning this lesson[md]or means that they learn it more slowly." Unfortunately, many women learn the importance of asking after they've been passed up a few times for promotion or lose out on the to-die-for assignment.

Women Share the Pot

Women are often naturals at the collaborative relationship-building style. They pick up facial cues, body movements, and vocal tones during the negotiation and try to ensure that everyone's needs are being met. Women generally do well using integrative tactics, which Babcock and Laschever identify as questioning, making an effort to hear the other's views, and obtaining end results that are agreeable to both parties. This integrative style is effective when several issues must be resolved. Both sides learn much about each other's interests and work to address those interests by swapping smaller items back and forth, suggest Babcock and Laschever.

With competitive strategies, the focus is on defending positions at all costs and not giving in to the other side. The integrative approach looks at creating that win-win. As Fisher and Ury recommend, you must realize that both sides share certain commonalities. A woman's approach often aims to share the results; both sides feel good about the end game.

What's the Trade-Off?

Many psychology, sociology, and communication studies have looked at different aspects of gender and negotiation. They agree that women frequently use a collaborative style and men use a competitive style. The former often achieves better results in the long run because the relationship between parties remains intact, whereas the competitive approach is more expeditious. The win feels good, but it can leave the other party battered, scarred, and unwilling to do business again.

The male competitive style still appears to be the norm by which we judge others. Both men and women tend to view the collaborative style as inferior to the competitive style. A woman's approach generally takes longer, since it demands more time to attend to feelings and ensure that all views and interests are heard.

Competitive negotiation places less concern on whether both parties feel good and walk away whole. Sometimes women risk being labeled as aggressive when they choose to use a competitive style. And when women are labeled as aggressive, that's definitely not a compliment.

Adapted from Audrey's co-authored book Code Switching: How to Talk so Men will Listen

Audrey Nelson is an international corporate communication consultant, trainer, author, and keynote speaker.

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