A Battle of the Sexes, or Just a Battle?
It is not unusual for me to get an email from a colleague asking me to read an article or post and then share my two cents. It is unusual that following through on such a request would take me on the wild ride that it did this week.
Let me retrace the steps – starting at the very beginning…
On August 4th, 2011, Susannah Breslin wrote an article for Forbes.com titled ‘Why Men are Better Negotiators Than Women.’ She points to men’s ability to lie, their lack of guilt for getting what they want not matter what it takes, and finally, their ability to intimidate. She received 53 comments, many of which were positive, some of which expressed sadness at her opinion, but all of which were constructive.
The following day, Lisa Gates published “Why Women are Better Negotiators Than Men”, also on Forbes.com. She paid homage to Breslin’s article, but added her own viewpoint, which, at a high level, is that women’s desire to achieve a mutually beneficial agreement lends itself to better relationship building and long term success. The post received 10 comments, all of which were positive and constructive.
More recently, Roz Usheroff posted ‘Are Women Better Negotiators Than Men?’ on May 18, 2014. In the post she refers to both of the Forbes articles as well as an article that I wrote on gender roles in supply management.
Three articles on the role of gender in negotiation, all receiving constructive responses, all written by women.
Then on May 19th, Jon Hansen posted his own take on the subject, ‘Are Women Really Better At Negotiating Than Men?’ I fully expected the typically gender-based discussions, considering how the typical man or woman might fare in the same negotiation. I love ‘people stuff’ and was looking forward to a good, healthy back and forth on the subject.
On the contrary, within 48 hours the post received 15,710 reads and 262 comments, most of which criticized the idea (speaking mildly) that that anyone could consider the idea of gender affecting one’s negotiating ability.
Early in the process of reading the comments, I had an idea. I took a piece of paper and made two columns:
- AGREE – gender has some impact on a negotiation
- DISAGREE – gender has no role on a negotiation
In each of those columns I added a header for men and one for women. My thought was, let’s take this gender idea a step further. In an admittedly non-scientific look at how gender might play a role in the discussion, I wanted to see how agreement and disagreement broke down by gender.
Here is what I found:
AGREE: 20 women, 25 men, 5 ?
DISAGREE: 24 women, 62 men, 2 ?
Women were evenly split between agree and disagree. Men, on the other hand, came down hard against the idea, sometimes aggressively. Ironically, many of the comments focused their anger on the title:
The article is poorly titled at best. At worst, it is a poor attempt to get people to view the post.
It's easy to tell who's resorting to a cheap clickbait title to draw attention.
I wish there are some sort of screening to check a gender biased topic from appearing in public, especially in LinkedIn; which is a professional networking platform.
If the title is the problem, why weren’t Breslin, Gates, and Usheroff subjected to a public lashing as well? Look at the titles of their articles, they are practically the same. One female commenter made the point that if the gender titles had been reversed in the title it would be sexist. I’ll have to let Breslin know…
So Breslin, Gates, and Usheroff can write articles about the role of gender in negotiation. I can be quoted as saying that women are better relationship builders. No issues. But if Jon Hansen writes a piece with the exact same title and he is sub-human. Would it change anyone’s opinion to know that I didn’t write the quote I am credited with? I cite it all the time because I think it is interesting – Dr. Tom DePaoli wrote it in his book, “Common Sense Supply Management.” Does that mean it is no longer a valid statement? Or worse, that it is somehow inappropriate?
For all the protestations that gender is a non-factor, I have to observe (again, unscientifically) that women can say things about themselves and men that men cannot say with such impunity. I believe that negotiation is less of a factor in and of itself than are perspectives on gender differences.
Agree or disagree, I don’t see the problem with raising a topic. I give a great deal more credit to the participants in the comment stream that were willing to share their actual thoughts on the topic for or against – whether male or female.
A woman coming to the defence of a man . . . preposterous. Or at least this would appear to be the consensus based upon the male response to my post.
All kidding aside Kelly, your article provides another very important perspective in that it would appear that gender is an issue at least when it comes to broaching certain subjects. Even though there is a petition to have my membership in the "mens club" revoked - I guess like the magician who reveals how magic tricks work, I somehow divulged a big secret on how men really think - the fact is that my research indicates that I may not have been too far off the mark. Your readers can reference my responses in the LinkedIn comment stream for further clarity.
One of the interesting points worth noting is that after the initial flurry of comments, more reflective responses appeared to be the order of the day. I guess people wanted to let things die down a bit before, as you put it, they were willing to share their actual thoughts on the topic.
All this being said, I am certain that this will not be the last time the question of gender comes up in terms of negotiating ability.
Let me clarify. Women are far superior in relationship building and getting people to cooperate and problem solve together. Negotiation at the strategic level should not be considered a "contest" or sporting event. Unfortunately, many men view it in this manner. At the strategic level it is more about making breakthroughs together and getting a unique competitive advantag, that your paying customers cannot ignore. You desire what I call "leapfrog" breakthroughs, not wins and losses. Again, we do not want to stereotype, but from my experiences, most women have far superior relationship building skills. Don't confuse this with the old fashion beat up your opponent adversarial negotiation methodology. This is appropriate for some situations. But it rarely results in breakthroughs.
I explain this in more detail in my books.
Thank you for joining the discussion Dr. Tom - that quote of yours is one that I have often used in posts or discussion groups as a starting point for constructive exchanges of ideas on a relevant topic.
Out of curiosity, have you ever gotten feedback on the statement - positive or negative - and has that feedback questioned the fact that a man would make a gender-based statement about a woman rather than vice versa?
From an enlarged perspective , did you ever consider that in other countries ,for instance my country ,Italy ,they had to pass a law enacting what it is called the Pink Quotas , to encourage and sometimes enable women to take more active parts at Boardrooms, Voting, Public Admnistration except Teaching(!) etc.
It is of significance anyway that it is up to women to take a more active part in the events sauf complaining that they are not considered enough or not considered at all or even not deemed fit to roles...
Cultural ,historical ,religious and sometimes by and large the birth places are all dividing factors that many times prevent women from taking more active roles and other times are barriers to their careers ,it is not always the male the culprit .
What is interesting Giuliano is how these difference to which you referred will affect negotiations as we continue to move towards a more globalized marketplace. For example what if you are in discussions with a client from a country who does not accept women sitting across them at the negotiating table, yet your best negotiator is a woman?
Thank you Giuliano,
You make an interesting point. Gender can play a role in negotiation (and any professional pursuit) without the other gender being the issue. I can personally attest to the impact family decisions can have on a career. Simple taking time away, or passing on an opportunity to take on more responsibility because it does not match someone's personal needs can have a detrimental effect on professional trajectory and performance.
While an increasing number of men are taking expanded roles in raising children, by and large, women's careers are still affected more by the decision to start a family. And we certainly can't blame men for that!