Avoid self-censorship: Dare to negotiate

Negotiation is a situation that provokes different emotions in people — some see it as a conflict situation, others see is as an organisational process. As Dr. Maria Koutsovoulou, associate professor in the management department at ESCP Business School explains in this article, these emotions, both positive and negative, betray negotiators’ perceptions of negotiation. These perceptions of gain and loss are related to their social role, and social role means gender. But are there real differences between men and women at the negotiating table, and how does a person’s culture, age, and expertise also have an impact?

A conflict situation or organisational process, negotiation is a situation that provokes different emotions in the parties it brings into interaction.

Some people find it a source of pleasure because of their perception of the game it involves. Others, on the contrary, see it as a source of anguish and frustration because they know very well that whoever engages in this process must be ready to concede in order to avoid stalemate and separation.

These emotions, both positive and negative, betray negotiators’ perceptions of negotiation. These perceptions of gain and loss are related to their social role, and social role means gender. Thus, can we say that men and women are unequal in the negotiation arena?

Negotiation and Gender

The subject of gender and its importance in negotiation is very often addressed by the question, “are there real differences between men and women at the negotiating table?”, in response to which many stereotypes surface: women are said to be more cooperative than men, gentler, less forceful and certainly more accommodating, as they would approach the negotiation with more anxiety than the desire to compete to win the game.

What is the origin of these stereotypes? The representation of the social role of women and men invited to the negotiating table. Thus, according to the theory of social role congruence, negotiation is more compatible with the male social role because men are more associated with power and competitive behaviour than women, and negotiation is perceived more as a situation of bargaining and power relations than as a joint problem-solving process.

Stereotypes sometimes verified in action

Numerous studies have shown that these stereotypes can be confirmed by the behaviour of women negotiators: in an organisational environment, women are less likely to initiate negotiations than men, more cooperative than competitive, they are more likely to ask rather than negotiate, they require fewer resources than their male colleagues to carry out the same tasks or missions, they are less demanding in terms of pay and, the most important differential, are more afraid of retaliation (backlash effect) than men.

In a context that is nonetheless complex and multifactorial

However, these results need to be viewed with some nuance, as the influence of many factors would change the behaviour of women negotiators and make them more assertive and competitive.

Extensive research has shown that the field of expertise in which bargaining takes place significantly changes the behaviour of women negotiators. Indeed, when this field is perceived to be compatible with the social role of women, they demonstrate more strength and assertiveness. It is as if women negotiators would draw their legitimacy from this expertise and would finally allow themselves to put themselves forward and claim value. This change in behaviour can also be observed when women negotiators do not negotiate for themselves but on behalf of a third person or group, and finally, when negotiations take place at a distance.

Avoid self-censorship: Dare to negotiate

It is apparent that the essentialist approach, according to which women’s and men’s behaviour is different and predictable, is not acceptable in the case of negotiation because this process is complex and a person’s behaviour is not only due to their gender but also to their culture, age, expertise and the context in which they act.

However, as victims of the representation of their social role and for fear of retaliation, women too often censor themselves and thus offer a self-fulfilling prophecy of the glass ceiling. Not simply asking even when one does not feel like an expert, distancing oneself from the issues at stake as if one was not negotiating for oneself, finally daring to negotiate, are some tips for women who wish to win their negotiations.

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