By Ruma Biswas
"You run a negotiation skills program?" the executive did a double take and looked at me with honest surprise. Seeing that he was caught open mouthed, he collected himself and gave me a disarming smile, "Well, I must admit I haven't seen too many women talk about negotiation skills. So, do women negotiate differently than men?"
Note, in this post, I am not going to focus on negotiation techniques, which is for another day, but will discuss about the intangible aspects of negotiation, the behaviours that need to complement those techniques.
All psychology narratives say that women are tuned to be better negotiators. Growing up, I remember all negotiations would be directed towards my mother - whether while shopping or while hiring help or while remodelling the house. And my father would be the 'generous' one who would just agree to any price that was quoted - it was a well-known fact that my mother always got a good bargain. And most women do say that they are good at getting a bargain! Somehow the old stereotype indicates that bargaining perhaps is a 'cheap' form of negotiating which men hardly resort to, while women dive into it with gusto.
Fast forward to today's scenario, I see women consciously and sub-consciously constantly negotiating their way through life (whether it is with the husband/boyfriend or with children on what to eat, where to eat, where to go for a vacation etc) and yet 4 out of 5 women say that they are unable to negotiate the salary they want or the salary they deserve while most often the men they know are quite adept at negotiating a better deal at work. And at large deal tables, it is mostly left to the men in the sales team to negotiate the terms and conditions or the pricing.
You may say that corporate negotiations are different from negotiating in personal life where emotions in a corporate environment is taboo while we can use emotions in personal deals. True that!
Well, there are a few clear and obvious factors and a few not-so-obvious factors as quite a few women have pointed out to me:
Women negotiate better when they are the 'buyer' of services or products - negotiating from a position of power.
Women naturally use certain negotiation techniques which are perhaps more effective in certain scenarios and not so much in others for example while bargaining or using emotions as a tool during negotiations.
Women negotiate better when it is for others e.g. their team, rather than for themselves.
And then there are certain other factors which are worth being aware of (particularly in corporate negotiations, including salary and business deals) and here are 3 of them:
Is gender itself an advantage during negotiation?
A negotiation is between two parties - so it is a cumulative process in an environment. In my negotiations' experience, I have noticed one thing: Men are sometimes distinctly uncomfortable negotiating sales deals (particularly pricing) with women - the first time I noticed this was when I went to negotiate a car deal with my car dealer. Thereafter, in my sales career, I have found it common that it would typically be men who would be across the negotiation table and a few of them would actually squirm or be quite uncertain. Is that an advantage? It depends from situation to situation and different situations need a different approach. In certain cases men are more intimidated by a woman on the other side mainly because 1) they find themselves in unfamiliar territory 2) because they find it hard to take an arm twisting stance - they just have to be gentlemanly (sometimes!).
So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that while I would sweat about my negotiation strategies, when I went into the negotiation, the other person was equally or more nervous than me. Since women naturally look for common ground, it is easier to come to a win-win situation and most time negotiations are smoother rather than heated.
Chris Voss (as supervisory special agent in the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit), trained several hundred FBI Agents, both male and female as crisis negotiators) says that if a person didn't use skills and work at getting better, it didn't matter what their gender was, they couldn't do the job.
I have had the privilege of working with some tough corporate legal executives who are women and I have always found their approach straightforward, precise and accommodative while negotiating legal terms and conditions. And the same virtue when applied to tough commercial negotiations, work wonders - prepare well, work at practising certain negotiation techniques and be confident in your knowledge, your experience and your gender!
Do women bring in more trust in a negotiation environment?
In negotiations, it is quite critical to have trust in the relationship. In traditional negotiations, people in buying positions deploy some 'arm twisting' tactics or 'power' tactics to get the deal they want. However, the scale has shifted because deals no more are transactional one-time deals - they are more strategic partnership these days. Hence, it is extremely important to have trust in the relationship.
Many a times, you might have seen men indulge in pre-negotiation chit chat - the purpose is to get familiar with the individual(s). Intuitively, all stakeholders are looking for some inherent values in the seemingly mindless chit-chat - whether honesty, integrity, fairness are strong values in the person they are negotiating with or whether they have some other values that are stronger. This helps the parties intuitively decide whether to trust the other party.
Women on the other hand generally tend to take a no-nonsense approach and dive directly into the negotiations with aplomb. This approach does give the other party an impression of professionalism, but that's about it. Result: While the intentions of the woman are right, the other person has nothing to build trust upon. So, it doesn't hurt to indulge in pre-negotiation or in-between negotiation chit-chat to help the other person understand you better as a person.
And what a great opportunity to intuitively assess the other person as well - so idle chit-chat never hurts!
Are women more emotional during negotiations?
All psychology papers uphold women as better negotiators because they are adaptable, they are more intuitive and they put a high value in relationships - hence they are always looking for common ground win-win situations.
And that is also the reason for emotions entering the fray, which can colour the communication process in not -so-favourable ways. I have noticed the emotions based on fear typically set in quickly during negotiations irrespective of gender and the more insecure you are, the more quickly emotions take over. Notice the examples below:
'This person is out to take advantage of me' - fear of being victimised.
'I think I am being stubborn here, what will s/he think?' - fear of rejection.
'I am in it for the long term, let me not damage the start of the relationship by asking for
'I will seem greedy if I ask for more' - fear of rejection.
'What if this breaks down - I might not get another chance' - fear of failure.
'I don't like the offer but maybe it is the right value given the restrictions' - justification based on guilt.
'Please, please do something' - appeal to other's emotions.
By the same token (high value of relationship) women are afraid to say NO. Have you noticed that women are not afraid to walk away from a deal while bargaining in a shop but in corporate situations, suddenly the relationship becomes one of high value? Suddenly saying NO becomes difficult - 'what if I jeopardize the relationship?'
Hence, knowing when you walk away and being OK with walking away gives you the confidence to enter into a negotiation on an equal footing. Saying NO is a powerful tool but it also depends on managing the emotion behind saying NO.
Managing emotions, self and social awareness is an extremely important ingredient in the art of negotiation.
In summary, women have the perfect recipe to be a great negotiators, all they need is a study of the ingredients that include the exclusive tools and strategies of negotiation and practice in using them, a dash of self and emotional management with a generous sprinkling of confidence, and voila, we have a delicious dish!