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:

  1. AGREE – gender has some impact on a negotiation
  2. 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.