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Negotiation 101: Gender War Or Gender Peace And Prosperity?

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.

  •  “Women are more likely to use methods” (Babcock, 2003) in their negotiation, to follow a set of rules or steps to get to a final outcome.”
  • “They take a broad or ‘collective’ perspective, and they view elements in a task as interconnected and interdependent” (Conner, 1999).
  • Women have the ability to see the big picture and come up with a systematic plan on how to solve it.
  • They feel more comfortable through communication and work through each step by sharing experiences while figuring out what both sides can gain to achieve an integrated outcome.
  • “Woman are usually more concerned about how problems are solved than merely solving the problem itself” (Conner, 1999) which is good in negotiation because of all of the small details to keep in mind when making negotiations.
  • Instead of concentrating on what they want or need to get out of the negotiation women focus on what both sides need and how both parties can get what they want.

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)

  • men . . . believ[e] that they have a bargaining advantage [which naturally gives it to them]”
  •  they also believe that they are entitled to more rewards and compensation [which makes them seek better results for themselves than women might]
  • [men] have this greater sense of pride and self-importance so they don’t believe that they should be the ones who have to back down from something that they want.
  • Men . . . ha[ve] the ability to speak up more and use more distributive tactics
  • They want to have their questions answered and find out the  information that they believe they are entitled to know.
  • Men also want to make sure that people know what their ideas are and try and get as many people as possible to agree with them.
  • [M]en make more remarks as . . . suggest[ions] that they are entitled to more than others and asserti[ons] [of]  their own worth; . . . thinking that people should hear them out
  • Men are also seen as stronger more aggressive speakers than women.
  • Some people become intimidated when a male speaker starts “pushing their weight around” during a negotiation.
  • men are seeking more power and in turn believe that they deserve more power.
  • In some cases, men can seem to know more than women just because they can make whatever they say seem like the ultimate truth with everyone else being wrong.

How men and women can collaborate to maximize the value of these differing negotiation styles tomorrow.


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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