Do Men and Women Negotiate Differently?

Do Men and Women Negotiate Differently?

A major new study investigates the different ways that men and women feel about and approach negotiation and has some clear implications for anyone wanting to improve their deal-making outcomes. Emma Weare reports.

In November 2019, we posted a question on The Gap Partnership’s LinkedIn page, which simply asked, “Do men and women negotiate differently?”

Of course, we knew through casually posing the same question to colleagues, friends and family,

that there would be differing points of view on this issue. Some answers were instant and emphatic, “Yes, of course they do, [insert mildly offensive noun].” Others would muse for a beat longer, and we’d get a more thoughtful response along the lines of “Well yes, perhaps, but nothing significant and that experience and training can’t mediate against.” And then there was everything in between, including a personal favourite – the gnomic, “Well, if they do, then they shouldn’t.”

Likewise, the LinkedIn post was energetically responded to, enjoying (for the analytics fans) a 6.36% engagement rate. Whether the commenters agreed, disagreed, or represented every shade of greyness in the middle, it was clearly a topic that generated strong opinions, provoked debate and stirred emotions.

We were delighted. And curious. And a little excited. Of course we had read the seminal research from the 2000s that had shown distinct gender differences in negotiation attitudes and styles – spawning a legion of books and experts on the concept that “women don’t ask.” We had also started to run our own events around the topic, hearing directly from women and men at the coalface of commercial negotiation about their personal experiences and views. But we also recognized that the commercial negotiators we work with in the present day are a different generation to those in Linda Babcock et al’s research. Attitudes have moved on. Social mores are more evolved. The world has undergone huge change. Sure, there is still a disappointingly chunky pay and leadership gap, but overall women and men are just more equal now, right?

So, what would a contemporary and far-reaching piece of research reveal? Well, we had to find out, and so The Gap Partnership’s Gender and Negotiation Research Project was conceived and born. It began with a comprehensive survey to identify current negotiation attitudes and behaviors and encompassed a split of genders, geographies, sectors, roles, ages, and nationalities. That was supplemented with one-to-one interviews to dig deeper and add colour and context. When the responses were number-crunched, interviews conducted and the report pulled together, what it told us was at once surprising, expected, insightful and obvious. It has provided us with an added layer of depth to a topic that is still so relevant and helped us understand how we can better partner with our clients in our day-to-day work to help them consistently achieve excellent negotiation outcomes.

Men and Women Think That Men and Women Negotiate Differently

The original question that inspired the research – “Do men and women negotiate differently?” – was definitively answered in the affirmative, with 73% agreeing overall. Probing into how it was felt these differences manifest themselves flushed out some familiar stereotypes around what are considered typically male, and typically female patterns of behaviour, and the negative reactions that can result from transgression from these. As a woman in aviation told us, “Men can be more direct. But when women are direct, men can be less accepting –

they don’t want to hear what’s being said.” A male retail executive in the US concurred, commenting, “Women in the workforce get a rap when they are hard negotiators…and might be considered bitchy. If a male does it, the attitude is, they’re just the alpha male.”

These observations, widely echoed from other respondents, suggest that the attitudes from the Babcock research have not in fact evolved as much as we might have suspected. Indeed, a 2017 study by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield revealed that gender bias in the workplace is still very real. They found that women’s perceived competency drops by 35% when they are judged as being “forceful” or “assertive”.

These Labels are Widely Imposed, And Women are Hyper Aware of Them

Our research replicated the counter-intuitive but well documented finding that women (as much as men) tend to judge assertive women in a negative way. A woman working in oil and gas told us, “On my The Gap Partnership workshop, there was another woman who was more like the men. She was pretty tough and fierce. I thought: You’re a woman, you’re not meant to lie. I had double standards.” Another woman working in CPG expanded: “It’s extremely common that women who act more like men get talked about differently than if a man were to do the same thing. It’s not just the men who tend to label them, women label themselves…Maybe that’s why I’ve seen the style I see most utilized [by women] is much more of the listen first, remain objective. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’d been trained so that no one can question their motivation, their personality. It’s much more difficult to tear them down, almost a protective mechanism.”

Men Love Negotiating More Than Women…Unless It’s Collaborative

Could this judgement bias that negatively impacts women explain why our research revealed that men are more than twice as likely as women to love negotiating? They liken it to performing, enjoying the back-and-forth and banter involved. One man told us, “It’s fun to get a deal, fun to save money and drive the solutions that my clients need.” Another was specific, “I love going to buy cars. It might take me a few days but getting to that point…just the art of it I enjoy.” In contrast to the classic car-buying negotiation – distributive, zero-sum, little to no requirement for a long-term relationship – women told us they preferred negotiations that took place on the left-hand side of the Clockface. One female #nance executive explained, “I love when it’s a win-win, everyone is happy at the end. The work gets done and everyone feels like it’s a good deal.”

But Both Women and Men Have a Beef with Men Who are too Aggressive

One of the classic tactics of negotiation is that of opening extreme. The point of it is that it gives the negotiator room to move. When that’s not the case and extreme turns to intransigent, it is a position disliked by women and men alike. What’s especially noteworthy is that in these scenarios of “shotgun tactics,” or “stonewalling,” our research found that it made men in particular unhappy.

Women Love to Be Collaborative…But That Plays into a Socially-Imposed Gender Stereotype

Women told us that they enjoy working with others to find joint solutions and achieve a win-win that works for all. Men told us that women can be more upfront with what they really need and are less prone to holding their cards close to their chest, which can drive real collaboration and creativity in problem solving. This could be a double-edged sword, however. When we spoke to Margaret Neale, Adams Distinguished Professor of Management, Emerita at Stanford Graduate School of Business, who specializes in the gender and negotiation field, she pointed out that women are more likely to be collaborative with a greater tendency to listen simply because their traditional societal role is to make others feel comfortable.

Women are Reasonably Confident Negotiators, But… Wait for it…Not as Confident as Men

Th e good news is that a third of women rated their confidence in negotiation as 76, or higher, out of 100. However, over a third said they would negotiate more if they were more confident. And so we return to the issue of women feeling hyper-aware of how they will be perceived, because we found they were much more likely to worry than men that they come across as too soft or emotional, or of getting a “no” if their “ask” is not deemed reasonable.

Perhaps Women Should Be More Confident, As They are Better Prepared

Men and women told us that women are both better prepared and better researched than men before they enter

into a negotiation. This could be linked to the confidence issue – if you are inclined to be less confident, then one way to counteract that would be to put in the work beforehand so you know all the facts, have built a strategy that takes into account all possible scenarios, and, overall, avoid “winging it”. On the plus side, women are positive about this more considered approach, and men acknowledged these qualities as a strength in their negotiation teams.

Power is the Third Variable

While our respondents identified and spoke about differences in gender, Margaret Neale says the different behaviors and attitudes we are seeing are as much a function of a power difference. She says negotiators are either low-power individuals – those who listen more, look for more collaboration and are “the engines behind value generation”, or high-power individuals – those who are interested in claiming value. “Power systematically affects how people negotiate,” she says, and this affects women disproportionately as “women on average occupy lower power positions”. It therefore follows that creating more opportunities for women to hold positions of power by closing the leadership (and salary) gaps will lead to a flattening out of these marked gender differences in confidence, negotiation-style and approach.

The Role of Clothes and Why Power Dressing Isn’t Dead

We were a little staggered to find that women are 50% more likely to wear something different on days they are negotiating. As a woman in manufacturing reminded us, “Women are always judged more harshly on their appearance than men…I am sure to dress just a little better than I expect the men to be.” A female advertising executive in the US described the balance she tries to achieve between looking smart and feminine: “I endeavour to have professional make up, hair and a suit, or conservative dress, but I don’t try to look masculine. I embrace being a woman but always in the most professional capacity.”

It Doesn’t Matter Who You Are, Training is the Magic Pill

Part of our business is negotiation capability development – in plain English, negotiation training. We were therefore pleased to #nd our results showed a strikingly positive correlation between training and confidence. With training, confidence levels went up across the board, with most more than tripling their high confidence levels when they’ve received training. Only 9% of women with no training rated their confidence above 75 out of 100. But with training, 34% of women rated their confidence high. And for men, this went from 25% without training to 44% when they’ve received training. Training was credited not just with reducing anxiety before a negotiation, but also in helping in strategy development and tactical planning. Perhaps just as critically, training helped our negotiators to separate their personal feelings from the negotiation.

Bring on Gender Diversity in Negotiation Teams – It’s a No-Brainer

Interestingly, there was a lot of support from men for having mixed gender teams – they very much saw this as adding value, not least because as one man working in transport told us, They’re calmer negotiations with an element of people being on their best behaviour. Mixed groups make for better outcomes. It stops a lot of posturing.” More profoundly perhaps, another male executive in manufacturing pointed out that, “The world is a lot more diverse. Everyone brings something to the table, which is really important. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, male or female, it’s about coming together and bringing our strengths.”

How Can this Research Help Us Be Better Negotiators?

Whether they reinforce or challenge what you perceive to be the differences (or not) in how men and women approach negotiation, these results are fascinating. They reveal not just a genuine range of difference in what men and women feel about negotiation, but also how that plays out in their preferred negotiation style. They also strongly support the role of ongoing negotiation training in helping both genders navigate these differences. And, of having a gender-mix in negotiation teams.

As Graham Botwright, CEO of The Gap Partnership, commented, “We train teams on the full spectrum of styles, strategies and tactics and how to apply them appropriately to each situation. We know that individuals often feel more comfortable with certain negotiation styles than others, but we believe every professional negotiator should learn to %ex their preferred style as appropriate to the situation to get the best outcome.”

The final word goes to one of the commenters on our original LinkedIn post, who in response to the question, said, “It has been my experience that a person’s confidence, in-depth knowledge of the ask, and the ability to define, deliver, and clearly explain the mutual benefits becomes a positive experience for all, regardless of gender, culture, and age.”

To download the full negotiation and gender report, please visit

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