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Updated: 14 Dec 2020

Gender Differences in Negotiations

gender negotiation


We examine the common stereotypical gender differences, and how women can be equally effective as men in negotiations when bargaining opposite one another.

by Charles B. Craver

In their book, Women Don’t Ask (2003), Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever state that 57% of male Carnegie Mellon graduate business students negotiate their starting salaries. However, only 7% of women negotiate salaries. This difference results in men’s starting salaries that are 7.6% higher than women’s. Why don’t women attempt to negotiate as often as men? If women did negotiate, is there any reason to think women would not do as well?

When men and women negotiate with members of the opposite gender, stereotypical beliefs affect their interactions. This is true even when negotiating with people of the same gender. Many men and women assume that males are highly competitive, manipulative, win-lose negotiators. People often see men as wanting to attain solid deals from the other negotiator.

A widely held stereotype of difference is that women are more accommodating than men. Women are often assumed as more likely to seek a win-win outcome and to preserve existing relationships by expanding the joint returns. If these stereotypical assumptions are right, we might expect well-trained male lawyers and business people to obtain better negotiating results than trained female attorneys and business people.

Real and Perceived Gender-Based Differences

Real Differences

When men and women interact, males tend to talk for longer periods of time and interrupt more often (Deborah Tannen, Talking From 9 to 5, 53-77 (1994)). Men utilize 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. Women are also more effective using this approach.

Females tend to employ language containing more disclaimers (“I think;” “you know”) than men. This 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 men. As a consequence, women are more likely to tune into the subtle messages the other side is conveying during bargaining encounters.

Negotiation StereotypesNegotiation Stereotypes

When it comes to negotiation skill stereotypes, men are typically believed to be rational and logical. In contrast, women are thought to be emotional in negotiations and more intuitive.

People tend to expect:

  • Men to emphasize objective fact, but…
  • Women to focus more on the maintenance of relationships.
  • Men to act dominant and authoritative, while…
  • Women are passive and submissive.

Gender-based stereotypes cause many people difficulty when interacting with attorneys and business people of the opposite gender. Men often expect women to act like “ladies” during their bargaining interactions. Overt aggressiveness that many would consider vigorous advocacy if adopted by men, may be characterized as offensive and threatening when used by women. This is especially true when females use foul language and loud voices.

Male negotiators, who would 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 behavior, men allow their female equivalents a bargaining advantage. Some men also find it difficult to act as competitively toward females who are on the other side as they would toward males. These men give further leverage to their female colleagues.

Male attorneys and business people occasionally make the mistake of assuming that women will not use as many negotiating “games” as men. Even quite a few women wrongly 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. This expectation provides a significant bargaining advantage to women who are willing to employ manipulative tactics.

Resisting Imposed Stereotypes

Some male negotiators try to gain a psychological advantage against aggressive females. One tactic is to cast aspersions on the femininity of those individuals. These men hope to embarrass these female bargainers. The idea is to make the women feel self-conscious about using these tactics.

Female negotiators should not permit others to employ this belittling tactic. Female negotiators have the right to use any techniques they think appropriate, regardless of the stereotypes those tactics might contradict. To male colleagues who raise baseless objections to women’s otherwise proper conduct, women should reply that they do not wish for men to see them as “ladies,” but merely as participants in bargaining interactions in which gender should be irrelevant.

What’s the Impact?

Women do not feel as comfortable in overtly competitive situations as their male colleagues. This idea may explain why more women (39%) than men (27%) take my legal negotiation course. In this course, performance on bargaining exercises, on a credit/no-credit basis, influences the final grade.

Many women are anxious about the negative consequences they link to competitive achievement. Some women fear that competitive success will result in alienation. Males in my legal negotiation course tend to be more accepting of excessive results that men achieve than those achieved by women. Even female students tend to be more critical of women who attain exceptional results than the same of men.

A number of men have privately admitted to me that they are also fearful of “losing” to females colleagues. These men admit preferring the risk of non-settlements than the “humiliation” of women defeating them.

Males tend to convey more confidence than women in performance-oriented settings. Even when minimally prepared, men tend to believe they can “wing it.” On the other hand, no matter how much women thoroughly prepare, women tend to feel unprepared. I have frequently seen this difference in my legal negotiation students.

Successful males often think they can obtain beneficial results in future settings. In contrast, successful females continue to express doubts about their own capabilities. I find this fact frustrating. 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 them. When men are successful, their performance tends to be ascribed to intrinsic factors like diligent work and intelligence. When women are successful, their performance is often put down to extrinsic factors. These factors include luck or the aid of others. This causes some people to overvalue male success and undervalue female success.

Where Do These Stereotypes Come From?

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. Boys are usually encouraged to engage in Little League baseball, basketball, football, soccer, etc. 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. Here, competition is indirect, since one person’s success does not necessarily signify another’s failure. While it is true that Little League and school sports for women have become more competitive in recent years, most continue to be less overtly competitive than corresponding male athletic endeavors (Gail Evans, Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman, 80 (2000)).

Statistical ResultsStatistical Results

Since 1973, I have taught legal negotiation courses. In this training, we study the negotiation process and factors that influence bargaining interactions. My students participate in a series of bargaining exercises, the results of which affect course grades.

Over the past 30 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,” 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 on the premise that women are more accommodating and less competitive. This would mean that women generate 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 these 30 years, I have discovered that practicing attorneys, business persons, and law students of both genders allow gender-based stereotypes to influence their negotiating interactions with the opposite gender. This is true even with people of the same gender.

Many individuals believe that men are highly competitive, manipulative negotiators who always strive to obtain maximum results for themselves. Those under this impression also believe female negotiators are more accommodating and less competitive interactants who try to maximize the joint returns achieved by all sides.


Legal practitioners and business firm officials should acknowledge the impact that gender-based stereotypes may have. Male attorneys who believe that female equivalents will not be as competitive or manipulative as their male colleagues provide female negotiators with an inherent advantage.

Those with this view let their guards down and behave less competitively against female negotiators. Female negotiators must also reject gender-based stereotypical beliefs regarding both their male and female equivalents.

Women who conclude that members of the other team are treating them less seriously because of their gender should not hesitate to take advantage of the situation. The favorable bargaining outcomes accomplished by these women should teach chauvinistic opponents a crucial lesson.

Law firms and business managers should be careful to minimize the impact of gender stereotyping when they assess male and female performance. These people should not over-value the success of men and under-value the success of women. It is a mistake to assign male achievement to intrinsic factors, but female achievement to extrinsic factors. These people should also try not to be critical of women whose negotiation styles would be seen favorably if employed by males but negatively when implemented by women.

Charles Craver is a Professor of Law, George Washington University.

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  • 11
    sexist on

    women are infirior to men

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