Gender Differences in Negotiations
We examine the common stereotypical gender differences, and how women can be equally effective as men in negotiations when bargaining opposite one another.
In their book Women Don’t Ask (2003), Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever remark that while 57 percent of male Carnegie Mellon graduate business students negotiate their starting salaries, only 7 percent of women do so – resulting in male starting salaries 7.6 percent higher than those attained by women. Why don’t women attempt to negotiate as often as men? If they did so, is there any reason to think they would not do as well?
When men and women negotiate with members of the opposite gender – and even the same gender – stereotypical beliefs affect their interactions. Many men and women assume that males are highly competitive, manipulative, win-lose negotiators who want to attain good deals from their counterparts. A widely held stereotype of difference is that women are more accommodating, who are also more likely to seek a win-win outcome, who also seek to preserve existing relationships by expanding the joint returns achieved by negotiating parties. If these stereotypical assumptions are right, we might expect male lawyers and business people to obtain better negotiating results than female attorneys and business people.
Real and Perceived Gender-Based Differences
While we’re dealing in negotiation skill stereotypes: men are typically believed to be rational and logical; while women are thought to be emotional in negotiations and more intuitive. Men are expected to emphasise objective fact; women focus more on the maintenance of relationships. Men are expected to be dominant and authoritative; women are supposed to be passive and submissive. When men and women interact, males tend to talk for longer periods of time and to interrupt more often than women. (Deborah Tannen, Talking From 9 to 5 53-77 (1994)). Men utilise more direct language, while women often reveal tentative and deferential speech patterns. During personal interactions, men are more likely than women to use “highly intensive language” to persuade others, and they are more effective using this approach. Females tend to employ language containing more disclaimers (“I think”; “you know”) than their male cohorts, which causes women to be perceived as less forceful. This gender-based factor is counterbalanced by the fact that women continue to be more sensitive to non-verbal signals than their male cohorts. As a consequence, they are more likely to be attuned to the subtle messages conveyed by opponents during bargaining encounters.
Gender-based stereotypes cause many people difficulty when they interact with attorneys and business people of the opposite gender. Men often expect women to act like “ladies” during their bargaining interactions. Overt aggressiveness that would be considered vigorous advocacy if employed by men may be characterised as offensive and threatening when employed by women. This is especially true when females use foul language and loud voices. Male negotiators, who would immediately counter such tactics by other men with quid pro quo responses, frequently find it difficult to adopt retaliatory approaches against women. When men allow such an irrelevant factor to influence and restrict their responsive behaviour, they allow their female opponents with a bargaining advantage. Some men also find it difficult to act as competitively toward female opponents as they would toward male opponents. These men give further leverage to their female opponents.
Male attorneys and business people occasionally make the mistake of assuming that their female opponents will not use as many negotiating “games” as their male adversaries. Even quite a few women erroneously assume that other females won’t apply the Machiavellian tactics stereotypically associated with members of the competitive male culture. Men and women who expect their female adversaries to behave less competitively and more cooperatively often ignore the realities of their negotiation encounters and provide a significant bargaining advantage to women who are willing to employ manipulative tactics.
Some male negotiators try to gain a psychological advantage against aggressive females by casting aspersions on the femininity of those individuals. They hope to embarrass those bargainers and make them feel self-conscious with respect to the tactics they are using. Female negotiators should never permit adversaries to employ this tactic. They have the right to use any techniques they think appropriate, regardless of the stereotypes those tactics might contradict. To male opponents who raise baseless objections to their otherwise proper conduct, they should reply that they do not wish to be seen as “ladies,” but merely as participants in bargaining interactions in which their gender should be irrelevant.
Women do not feel as comfortable in overtly competitive situations as their male colleagues. This factor may explain why a higher percentage of women (39%) take my Legal Negotiation course, in which final grades are influenced by performance on bargaining exercises, on a credit/no-credit basis than men (27%). Many women are anxious regarding the negative consequences they relate with competitive achievement, fearing that competitive success will alienate them from others. Males in my Legal Negotiation course tend to be more accepting of excessive results obtained by other men than by such results achieved by women. Even female students tend to be more critical of women who attain exceptional results than they are of men who do so. A number of males have privately admitted to me that they are also fearful of “losing” to female opponents, preferring the risk of non-settlements than the humiliation of being defeated by women.
Males tend to convey more confidence than women in performance-oriented settings. Even when minimally prepared, men believe they can “wing it” and get through successfully. On the other hand, no matter how thoroughly prepared women are, they tend to feel unprepared. I have frequently observed this difference among my Legal Negotiation students. Successful males think they can obtain beneficial results in future settings, while successful females continue to express doubts about their own capabilities. I find this frustrating, because the accomplished women are as proficient as their accomplished male cohorts.
Male and female self-confidence is influenced by the stereotypical ways in which others evaluate their performances. When men are successful, their performance tends to be ascribed to intrinsic factors such as diligent work and intelligence; when women are successful, their performance is often to be attributed to extrinsic factors such as luck or the aid of others. This factor causes male success to be overvalued, and female success to be undervalued.
Gender-based competitive differences may be attributable to the different cultural process boys and girls go through. Parents are likely to be more protective of their daughters than their sons. Most boys are exposed to competitive situations at an early age. They have been encouraged to engage in little league baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and other competitive athletic endeavours. These activities introduce boys to the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” during their formative years. Traditional girls games like jump rope and hopscotch are turn-taking games, where competition is indirect since one person’s success does not necessarily signify another’s failure.” While it is true that little league and inter-scholastic sports for women have become more competitive in recent years, most continue to be less overtly competitive than corresponding male athletic endeavours. (Gail Evans, Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman 80 (2000)).
Since 1973, I have taught Legal Negotiation courses in which we study the negotiation process and the factors that influence bargaining interactions. My students participate in a series of bargaining exercises, the results of which affect their course grades. Over the past thirty years, I have performed a number of statistical analyses of student negotiation performance based upon gender. (Charles B. Craver & David W. Barnes, “Gender, Risk Taking and Negotiation Performance,” 5 Michigan Journal of Gender & Law 299 (1999)). I have found absolutely no statistically significant differences between the results attained by men and by women. The average results are almost similar. Several people suggested to me that while the average results might be equal, the male results would be more widely distributed. This theory was based upon the premise that women are more accommodating and less competitive, generating more results in the mid-range, while more competitive, win-lose males would either obtain highly beneficial results or well below average results. If this hypothesis were true, the standard deviations for the more dispersed males would be greater than those for the centrally concentrated females. The fact that I have found no statistically significant differences with respect to the male and female standard deviations contradicts this theory.
Over the past thirty years, I have discovered that practising attorneys, business persons, and law students of both genders allow gender-based stereotypes to influence their negotiating interactions with persons of the opposite gender – and even people of the same gender. Many individuals believe that men are highly competitive, manipulative negotiators who always strive to obtain maximum results for themselves, while female negotiators are more accommodating and less competitive interactants who try to maximise the joint returns achieved by the parties.
Legal practitioners and business firm officials should acknowledge the impact that gender-based stereotypes may have upon negotiation interactions. Male attorneys who believe that female opponents will not be as competitive or manipulative as their male colleagues provide women adversaries with an inherent advantage. They let their guards down and behave less competitively against female opponents than they would with male opponents. Female negotiators must also reject gender-based stereotypical beliefs regarding both male and female opponents. Women who conclude that adversaries are treating them less seriously because of their gender should not hesitate to take advantage of the situation. The favourable bargaining outcomes accomplished by these women should teach chauvinistic opponents a crucial lesson.
Law firm and business managers should be careful to minimise the impart of gender stereotyping when they assess male and female performance. They should not over-value the success of men and under-value the success of women by assigning male accomplishment to intrinsic factors but female achievement to extrinsic factors. They should also try not to be critical of women whose negotiation styles would be seen favourably if employed by males but negatively when implemented by women.
Charles Craver is a Professor of Law, George Washington University.