Strategic business negotiation: behaviour and gender factors

Negotiations are a part of life in any business environment. Some call it a “people game” since people skills are key. Those who know how and when to adapt their behaviour while negotiating have a higher chance of winning. Or, even better, of achieving win-win. Because negotiating skills are vital for managers, BMI includes solid negotiation training and insights in both its EMBA and Executive Education programmes.

A recent workshop at BMI featured Mira Vasic, a negotiation expert and co-owner of the In Touch Female Leadership & Career Academy. Drawing on long experience with private and public sector organizations, Mira addressed some of the key factors that influence success in negotiations. Here we share some of her ideas and insights.

Gender and related biases
We often have unconscious biases about the gender and behaviour of people we deal with, especially when we only have limited information about them, say we just know their job title for example.

Thus, if we are preparing to negotiate with a CEO without knowing the person’s gender in advance, most likely we will visualize a man. We also generally expect men to be assertive and tough negotiators, while we tend to imagine women, even if they are assertive, will also be kind.

Although it is understandable that our anticipations are somewhat stereotypical, we should remember that no matter what gender a person is, we all have a mixture of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ working styles. Negotiation need not be limited only to the type of masculine style of working that dominated historically, since times and circumstances have changed. To be effective in negotiations, it is worthwhile trying to take advantage of both styles while at the same time staying authentic and not just copying others.

Feminine and masculine styles
Men and women usually follow different behavioural patterns when taking part in negotiations.

That goes all the way back to childhood. Deborah Tannen, a university professor in the United States who has done a lot of research on how little boys and girls play, has made a video that demonstrates the differences. It shows girls connect more by talking a lot and identifying with each other, boys by competing and doing things together. Also notice the girls are in a group of two, while boys tend to play in bigger groups.

If this is taken to a negotiating context, women lean more toward a situation of equality and wanting everyone to be satisfied with the outcome. Men, on the contrary, compete to be higher in the hierarchy and often perceive negotiation as a game to win. They tend to structure a negotiation as “a battle of arguments” with successive rounds, where each party should present one argument at a time (and save the rest for later).

Hearing the answer “no” in a negotiation tends to be accepted as a simple “no” by people with a more feminine approach but will likely spark passion to compete and try to win in people who tend toward a more masculine behaviour style. As an interesting illustration, research has shown that only 30% of women negotiate about their salaries, and only 7% of the women who do not get a raise keep trying to get one.

Eleven archetypes
Mira described eleven behavioural archetypes into which people can be classified and which can be grouped as more feminine or masculine. While all eleven are present in each of us to some extent, factors like our background, education, family, friends, and so on impact which one prevails. Knowing your own natural negotiation style and being able to determine your negotiating partner’s enables you to prepare even better.

Masculine archetypes:

  1. Zeus is a man at the top, someone in a top position: manager, CEO, board member, etc.. He is always in a suit, even when working from home. He is always busy, always in meetings, and cares greatly about status.
  2. Hephaestus is a specialist who puts great effort into his work and is keen to obtain knowledge. He can get frustrated at times because knowledge workers are not paid as much as Zeus. He also may be socially awkward or not approachable to everyone.
  3. Apollo is a crown prince or the second in command. He is a logical and mental person. He cares about numbers, facts, figures, and statistics.
  4. Hermes is a networker who knows many people. He is keen to innovate and strives to be first.
  5. Poseidon is an emotional man.

Feminine archetypes:

  1. Athena is a woman at the top who understands that work involves a strategic game and sees negotiation as a game to play and enjoy.
  2. Hestia is a modest but knowledgeable woman. She is someone who needs to reflect deeply on information she gets from the outer world and process it internally before giving an opinion or judgment.
  3. Aphrodite is someone who brings a lot of energy into the room and the negotiation process. She is very much into people, has a huge network, and loves socializing.
  4. Artemis is an entrepreneur who fights for human rights and innovation and speaks up against global warming and other high-level topics. She is an assertive pioneer in her field.
  5. Demeter is a caring character who has keen interest in other people and in processes. She aims to ensure that negotiations go smoothly and that everyone is happy with the outcome.
  6. Persephone is a person who asks direct questions, something that is challenging for other people to do.

Instead of limiting yourself to only one approach, remember that there are other archetypes too. Try to strategically use aspects of all eleven to get what you want from any negotiation you are involved in.