Round the negotiating table, it's women who call the shots.
Success in negotiation is measured by results, but there are ways and ways of getting there. Allowing for individual variations, are there any differences in negotiating style which distinguish women and men?
Or, to put it simply, are women better negotiators than men?
Yes, say psychologists. Keith Trickey is a master practitioner in neuro-linguistic programming and human resource coach at Liverpool Business School. 'At best, women have greater flexibility than men. It is far harder for a man to negotiate in a feminine way than for a woman to adopt a masculine approach.' A woman can choose to come to a meeting power-dressed and ready for action, warning the other side that this is going to be a battle.
Or she can choose to go in looking harmless, disarming her opponent and slipping under all defences to do an effective job. Men, on the whole, don't have the second option.
Mike Stevenson, director of human resources at Nynex Communications, says that: 'Women are better salespeople because they're more determined to deliver. While men bullshit and procrastinate, women focus on their target'. Graeme Hunt, sales director at Rolls-Royce dealer Jack Barclay, agrees: 'Saleswomen are generally better at closing deals than men'. Hunt accepts that, when it comes to buying a car, a man would rather talk to another man; also that not many women are in the market for a Rolls. But he recalls one customer: 'The complete businesswoman, in her mid-40s, wanted no messing around. She knew her own mind, and was much more positive than most men.'
A woman running a business in the construction sector must be an able negotiator. Dawn Gibbins, managing director of Flowcrete, thinks that women may be better at listening and at reading people. They are also less given to posturing. 'Women can admit they're wrong, and will back off on a trivial point to get things moving. Aggression gets you nowhere.' But if aggression is part of the game, Maureen Byrne will not be deterred.
Byrne is one of the few regional officers in the Transport and General Workers Union. 'I know companies which don't like dealing with me because I'm a strong, determined woman,' she says, confessing to having chewed up one male adversary and spat him out - in a thoroughly professional manner, of course. In a tough world, weakness is unacceptable, she maintains.
But women are natural conciliators, and better at compromise than men.
And that's not all: 'Women delve deeper and demand explanations'.
Paul Devitt, corporate finance partner with Manchester solicitors Addleshaw Sons & Latham, doesn't see the difference. 'The most formidable female negotiators I've met are excellent, but their style is no different to a man's.' If there is a difference it is in a client's perception: 'Women have to work hard to establish their position - gender shouldn't matter but it does.' Over in the northern office of Alsop Wilkinson, rival corporate finance partner Sally Wightman concedes that men have the advantage when it comes to old-school networking. But at the negotiating table, she believes, women come into their own. 'Men argue over tiny points as a matter of pride. Women are far more concerned with what is commercially relevant. Clients don't want 15-hour meetings while their lawyers battle over irrelevancies.'
So women can be just as tough as any man, and more focused and more perceptive - and more subtle. Women seem to think so anyway. And so do a fair proportion of men.