Although I am indisputably a “woman lawyer,” I have never thought of myself in those terms. I’m a lawyer. And I’m a woman. I’m also a writer, a step-mother, a wife, a daughter, a river rafter, and an aficionado of squash (the game, not the vegetable), photography, literature, and theater. Oh yes. I’m also Caucasian. I rarely have to think of myself in those terms, however, because the society in which I live doesn’t require it of me. I’m aware of my skin color only when I’m with my African-American friends or in a racially mixed workplace (shamefully rare in modern American private legal and ADR practice).
I was forced to become more conscious of my gender when I became a commercial mediator and arbitrator five years ago because I am once again a “minority” — something I hadn’t been in legal practice since the early 1980’s. Naturally, I began to research differences in negotiation styles between men and women. What I learned wasn’t surprising, but it is empowering. Although we do negotiate differently, if we learn to move more easily back and forth across gender lines, we can all become better negotiators.
First, the “old news” about women’s ability to negotiate as well as men from a 2008 article entitled The Different Negotiation Styles Between Men and Women from which all of the quotes below have been taken.
Although negotiation has always been an important workplace skill, it has long been thought to be the province of men: a competitive realm in which men excelled and women felt less capable.
I have lived the change in gender roles since I graduated from high school in 1970. 1970 was a year in which the newspaper’s classified ads (yesterday’s “Craig’s List”) were “Help Wanted: Women” and “Help Wanted: Men”; and a year in which I took my high school’s career preference test on the literally pink form which limited my choices to occupations like nurse (if I was good at math and science); teacher or social worker (if I was good at the liberal arts); and secretary (if I knew the QWRTY keyboard). The cultural expectations of women, however, persist.
“…our society still perpetuates rigid gender based standards for behavior-standards that require women to behave modestly and unselfishly and to avoid promoting their own self-interest” (Babcock, 2003). As women learn quite early in life “that competing and winning against a man can threaten his socially defined masculinity” and is socially seen as taboo. From the beginning of a woman’s life, they are taught by society “that women are thought to be warm, expressive, nurturing, emotional, and friendly” (Babcock, 2003). When growing up girls are cuddled; baby girls are also ‘thrown around’ less and thought of as fragile. If everyone goes through their life with this mentality in mind, it is hard for women to break away from this stereotype and still be taken seriously and not as overbearing or overly competitive which can harm women in negotiation.
Here’s the good negotiation news for women’s acculturation.
While these general tendencies of women (understanding that we all operate on a sliding scale of “femaleness” and “maleness”) were previously believed to be negotiation deficits, they are now perceived as negotiation assets.
The focus of negotiation recently has shifted to be a more win-win rather than a win-lose (Babcock, 2003), which is why women are tending to exceed more in today’s negotiations. “Women take a more cooperative approach to negotiating” (Babcock, 2003) they are willing to work with the other person and are able to see both sides so both can get what they want. In a negotiation, women tend to ask more questions and do more talking one on one, however, “women discuss what is directly related to what each side wants introducing information into negotiations helps expand the understanding of the goals on both sides” (Babcock, 2003). This is good to build a relationship before the big negotiation start.
But let’s not get all gender wars about this. Let’s instead focus on male negotiation advantages that can be adopted by women and female negotiation advantages that can be adopted by men. The male advantages? (once again remembering that we are dealing with social and cultural stereotypes)
How men and women can collaborate to maximize the value of these differing negotiation styles tomorrow.
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