April 2019 | 

Women and Negotiations: Claiming Power and Driving Outcomes

Women and Negotiations: Claiming Power and Driving Outcomes

Forty years of research by scholars such as Carnegie Mellon’s Linda Babcock and Georgetown’s Emily Amanatullah on gender and negotiations have revealed what many women in business know all too well. They generally believe they’re not good at it, and therefore tend to avoid negotiating in work settings whenever possible.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that (for starters, male and female bosses on average react negatively when women ask for raises as opposed to men). But, says Wharton professor Cade Massey, the “I’m no good at it” mentality simply isn’t true.

“Women tend to have a narrow definition of what it means to negotiate. The truth is we’re all — women and men — negotiating all the time,” says Massey, who teaches in Wharton’s Executive Negotiation Workshop: Negotiate with Confidence. “We negotiate with our partner about who will take on a task, with our kids about chores, and with our friends about what movie to see or restaurant to try. Women are typically very good at these negotiations: they tend to listen to various viewpoints and suggestions, and come up with workable solutions.”

The narrow definition is the movie version, says Massey, in which the aggressive “winner” conquers the “loser.” “In that context, many women feel that’s something they either are not good at or will receive some kind of social penalty for if they behave that way. Are there men who negotiate that way? Yes. But that’s not always effective, especially if you are going to be negotiating with the other party more than once.”

Massey says during the program he observes groups of five people spending four or five hours working through a capstone negotiation. “I see firsthand that in terms of team cohesion, collaboration, and problem solving, women tend to be very strong. They build relationships and are adept at surfacing shared interests. It’s very helpful for women who might not be confident negotiators to see those ‘native strengths’ as negotiation strengths. When you see that those skills are important, your confidence grows.”

It’s not just those firsthand experiences that lead to those conclusions — research also bears them out. Studies show that groups with women in them reach more value-creating outcomes.

Massey says in addition to building confidence around skills, the program provides a wide range of negotiation experiences. “You’re not just learning about your own unique negotiating style and how to leverage it, but you are practicing and refining your skills. In four and a half days, you negotiate on many subject matters with different counterparties. You negotiate with men, women, older and younger people, those from your country and from around the world, and those from a range of industries. On Monday it might be someone from a nonprofit, Tuesday a senior executive at a Fortune 50 company, and Wednesday an active duty special ops soldier. Everyone gains more experience, but it is especially helpful for those coming in with less confidence.”

Another tendency that can set women back in negotiations is setting low expectations. “We push participants hard on the impact of their goals,” says Massey. “Your mindset has such an important impact on your outcomes — you don’t want to anticipate or settle for insufficient results. You have to do well with your internal negotiations before you can do well with the external. Be aggressive on your expectations, be willing to disappoint the other side and to come across as unwilling to cooperate, and be ready to walk away from meager offers.”

Massey, who teaches in the program with G. Richard Shell, says “Our philosophy is that everyone can improve their negotiating ability. You need a broad range of skills and techniques, not an aggressive winner-takes-all approach. When women discover that they already possess many of those skills, and get in plenty of practice, they can make great advances. Negotiating is not just about sitting at a table to come up with a price.”