In the world of business, women are considered more accommodating, win-win negotiators who seek to preserve existing relationships by maximising the joint returns achieved by negotiating parties. They draw on emotional intelligence including intuition. Conversely, men are assumed to be highly competitive, manipulative, win-lose negotiators who want to obtain good deals from their opponents.
If these stereotypical assumptions are correct, we might expect male business people to achieve better negotiating results than their female colleagues. However, there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that this is not the case. In this month’s cover feature, Learning to negotiate with a female touch, INSEAD professor Horacio Falcao says women tend to get better results when they are negotiating on behalf of someone else, than when negotiating their own salaries.
This view is backed by Charles Craver, who is Freda Alverson Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School. Over the past 30 years, he has conducted several statistical analyses of student negotiation performance based upon gender and has found no difference in performance between male and female students.
"I have found absolutely no statistically significant differences between the results achieved by men and by women. The average results are almost identical. Several people suggested to me that while the average results might be equal, the male results would be more widely distributed," he says.
"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 achieve highly beneficial results or well below average results. If this hypothesis were correct, the standard deviations for the more dispersed males would be higher 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."
Fiona Dent, director of executive education and the influencing skills and strategy course at Ashridge Business School, agrees that gender is increasingly irrelevant in the negotiation stakes. "I don't think being a good negotiator is gender specific. Our course participants have got stuck on the 'persuasive reasoning' style of negotiating and they don't know what they are doing wrong. The reason they have adopted this style is because it gets results in business more often. But while it tends to be rewarded initially, the act of persuasion is often superficial."
She says women are most effective at making intuitive decisions at middle manager level. But as they ascend a company’s ranks they struggle to retain their natural intuition, while fighting their corner in a male environment. Nonetheless, Dent believes that increasing numbers of females are getting to the top using a variety of styles including their softer traits. "The really successful women are the ones who have learned that there are a variety of different ways of 'influencing', but far and the best way is to draw on all styles of negotiation."
She believes that males have started to see the benefits of a more collaborative and creative style of negotiation. "I think businessmen are finally beginning to cotton on to the fact that more feminine skills have their role to play and are becoming acute to the need to develop these skills."
By Abi Newman