Women and Negotiation: Why and How Men Should Come to the Table
BY ANDREW COHN
“Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide,” by Sara Laschever and economics professor Linda Babcock, caught my attention recently. The book summarizes research about women’s general reluctance to negotiate, as well as the challenges when they do.
The authors assert that women often get less because they ask for less. Not only do women aim lower, according to the research, but in many cases they don’t make any demands at all. Why is that? Because, according to the research, women are less sure of what is negotiable and the parameters of what would constitute a good deal. The research further concludes that, for women, the social costs of negotiating often seem much higher than the benefits. Women might have learned that to ask is to be argumentative, unpleasant or uncooperative, and so they might avoid negotiating.
Who is responsible for these dynamics?
According to researchers, social forces (including childhood games, classroom conduct, and family roles) play a major part in creating these gender differences. These forces direct and reward women for focusing on others’ needs, rather than their own desires.
As a man, am I to blame for this? I do not create social forces — although I certainly have a part in perpetuating them. This may seem obvious, but the responsibility question is important in terms of how willing we are to engage. I believe that all of us — but particularly men — are much more willing to engage in a constructive conversation if we are not being blamed for the existence of the challenge we are addressing.
Who is affected by this situation?
This issue affects everyone, men and women. I am affected by my colleagues’ willingness and ability to negotiate, as well as my client’s negotiation skills. I am affected by the effective negotiation (or lack thereof) of my wife, my sister, my mother and the other women in my personal life. I am impacted by the success and fulfillment enjoyed by my women friends — and by any unhappiness they experience as a result of unpleasant and unproductive negotiations.
This is not just “their” issue, it is my issue, too. As the personal impact of women and negotiation becomes clearer to me, one important question jumps forward.
What can I do about this situation?
I can do my best to promote the type of healthy, productive win-win negotiation that generally suits women’s negotiation style best. Because this type of negotiation creates a positive impact on the parties’ relationship, it is likely to be in my best interest to do that anyway. In doing so, I can make the “women’s style” of negotiation more the norm than the exception. Perhaps if we all did more of this win-win negotiation, it would not be referred to as an alternative, “women’s” style.
I can offer support for the women I know as they prepare for important negotiations, professional or personal. If it is true that women back off because they think that negotiating renders them uncooperative or argumentative, I can remind the women in my life that they are absolutely entitled to go for what they want in their business and personal dealings.
I can also invite them read the new book by Ms. Babcock and Ms. Laschever, entitled “Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want.” This book is like a how-to manual that offers women (and men as well) strategies and techniques for negotiating. It helps women (and men) recognize opportunities to negotiate, avoid the real or perceived social costs of asking, and ultimately have more of what they want.
Finally, I can continue to look for opportunities to support my clients, colleagues, friends and family as they identify their focus and take steps to realize their goals. And I can remember that we are all striving to be more effective in our professional and personal lives. We all have barriers. Books like these help identify their causes and offer solutions that will help us have more of what we want — whether it requires negotiation or not.
About the Author
Andrew Cohn is the founder and principal of Lighthouse Consulting, LLC and a Fellow with the Oxford Leadership Academy. For more than 20 years he has worked globally as a consultant, advocate, facilitator and problem-solver for businesses and individuals. Andrew’s work improves his clients’ business results and culture, and enhances individual performance and satisfaction. He lives in the Northeast United States.
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