RECOGNIZING THE SHADOW NEGOTIATION
The alarm goes off at six. By six-thirty coffee is brewing along with an argument. The contractor has finally agreed to look at the storm damage. You cannot get away this afternoon. Besides, it's your husband's turn. You covered the last crisis. Do you risk delay and reschedule, come up with a workable alternative, or hold firm?
First on the agenda at the office is a meeting with your boss. As you suspected, she rejects the team's proposed media campaign. You think she's wrong. How can you convince her? Should you try? What happens to the team's morale if you don't?
Office space is being reorganized. Last time around you compromised. Everyone expects you to be equally amenable this year, but they're in for a surprise. Your department has run out of room for new hires.
At lunch you go over a new contract. Your client keeps making sly innuendoes while his lawyer ignores your suggestions on revisions that protect your firm's rights. What do you say? How do you get them to focus on the business issues? To take you and your demands seriously?
You get a late telephone call from your most important supplier. He's having second thoughts about those price revisions that the two of you talked about. Can you find a solution -- perhaps a slower schedule for the increases -- so that he's comfortable and you don't blow your budget projections?
You finally head home. You will tackle that one tomorrow.
Sound familiar? A day on the job seldom goes by without the need to negotiate cropping up. We routinely deal with conflicting priorities and conflicting demands on our energies. Our responsibilities often exceed the "official" authority we have to get things moving. We cannot tell people what to do. They are usually under no obligation to listen, let alone follow orders. In fact, whenever we need something from someone else -- a job, more cooperation, more time, or more money -- we negotiate.
Conflicts of any consequence between people must be worked out with people. Most of this bargaining plays out in the informal exchanges that are part of the warp and woof of daily life. We drop by a colleague's office for a chat or enlist a mentor's help over coffee. Circumstances are more likely to find us vying for a raise or trying to restore a fractious team to equilibrium than taking part in the public drama of a mega-merger or a UN peacekeeping effort. Yet we often let these visible high-stakes negotiations shape our notions about negotiation and, in turn, the abilities and skills needed for success.
Nightly, larger-than-life figures parade across our television screens, the charismatic leaders and brilliant tacticians who have just pulled off some negotiating wizardry. The news summary zeroes in on the unexpected coup or the adroit posturing. It is not surprising that along the way we elevate negotiation to an "art form" practiced by the innately talented. A real estate developer with the instincts of a street fighter attaches the article the to his first name and labels what he does The Art of the Deal. We watch Secretary of State Madeleine Albright shuttle between capital cities or trade representative Charlene Barshefsky hammer out a tough agreement with the Chinese government and can be silently pleased at her success. But conscious of the distance between this rarefied world and our own more mundane concerns and less stellar achievements, we mythologize the negotiation process and the people who negotiate.
The myths that have grown up around skillful negotiators need to be taken with a large grain of salt. Exceptional bargainers seem to have the magic touch, but that touch comes from a lot of practice. By training and from taking some not-so-public knocks, they have become adept at figuring out how to navigate the thorny situations that demanding circumstances or taxing people can create.
There is nothing magical or mystical about negotiation. People get better at it with practice. Ordinary people. Yet the mythologized negotiator makes us doubt what we can accomplish. Suspecting that we are neither sufficiently artful nor naturally persuasive, we let opportunities to negotiate slip by us unclaimed or unnoticed. Cramped by circumstance, with no magic up our sleeve, we don't consider negotiation a possibility. We just make do and move on, not realizing that we might have bargained. Often, from lack of training or experience, we fail to recognize that we are in the midst of a negotiation until it is too late to change the outcome. Even when we are well aware that we are negotiating and we know the stakes involved, we might have trouble getting the person we're negotiating with to listen, much less cooperate with us.
For the last several years we have been talking to women about what happens when they negotiate. Some of them buy into the mythology of the great negotiator and naturally assume their innate abilities come up short. Others have taken some hard knocks at the negotiating table and have become discouraged or disillusioned. Remembering what occurred the last time they asked for a raise or their running battles with another department for staff support, they find negotiation an unpleasant experience. They much prefer to avoid difficult situations altogether than get into heated disputes. If they cannot figure a way to sidestep the problem, they approach negotiation with sweaty palms and a high level of anxiety.
This wariness is not groundless. Despite the tremendous successes individual women have achieved, as a group we have not fared well when we must bargain hard. We pay more for our cars, new and used, and come out of salary talks with less in our pockets than men do. Although the vast majority of households depend on two paychecks, men make more of the money and women do more of the chores. With the odds stacked against us, it is only human to avoid negotiation on occasion. When you calculate the chances for success and find them slim, you settle for what is offered rather than negotiate for what you can legitimately demand.
Avoidance or acquiescence only seems to be an easy way out. In the long run, bit by bit, it silences you. The happy fact is that effective negotiators are made, not born. Even professional negotiators learn their trade. And success feeds success.
The Problem Is Only Part of the Story
Most popular advice on negotiation recommends that you focus on solving the problem and provides a blueprint for attacking it. Rather than wage a battle over a single issue, the advice suggests, think of the problem as a series of trade-offs among many issues. With a single issue at stake, any negotiation lurches toward a win-lose proposition. Someone is going to come out on top. If, however, you can break down a monolithic problem, discover it is actually made up of many different issues, those differences give you room to find a compromise. No one wins everything, but no one loses everything either.
This advice is useful. A realistic assessment of the problem always helps you formulate your strategic options. An emphasis on problem solving often leads to an agreement that produces some benefit for everyone. The fable of the two oranges bears out what these mutual gain or win-win solutions can offer. At the same time, it brings into sharp focus what the problem-solving orientation leaves out.
The fable takes place at Christmastime and involves two sisters. One plans to bake a chiffon cake for the festivities; the other, a fruitcake. Both recipes call for two oranges. But when the sisters check the larder, they find only two, not the four they need. An argument immediately erupts over who gets the oranges. One sister complains that chiffon cake is wrong for the season. The other retorts that fruitcake may be traditional, but nobody likes it. Obvious solutions are out of the question. It being a holiday, they cannot borrow from the very neighbors who will later be their guests, and the stores are closed. The sisters, unwilling to compromise and bake only half a recipe, become more and more entrenched in defending their rights. It is an all-or-nothing contest. They cannot both get what they want. Or can they?
Preoccupied with winning, each overlooks the actual ingredients specified in the recipes. Amid the heat in the kitchen some pertinent facts emerge. The traditional fruitcake requires only the rind, while the delicate chiffon cake uses just the juice. If one or the other sister was to prevail, either the rind or the juice would go to waste. By focusing not on who wins but on the problem itself, both sisters can get what they want. One sister carefully grates the rind off the two oranges, then hands them over to her sibling for squeezing.
What a great solution, you think. If you just adopt this problem- solving approach, you can instantly become an effective negotiator. You have only to look at the problem -- for differences in needs and interests -- and propose solutions that play on those differences. The techniques are seductive in their promise of success. But consider what is slighted or missing in the orange story. The dispute might mask resentments that have nothing to do with oranges. Our sisters might have other issues on their agendas. The older sister might be fed up with always having to accommodate a younger sibling. She might not want to make any deal that works for her sister. The younger sister, on the other hand, might not be willing to give an inch just because she really hates fruitcake. Then, too, the solution is almost mythic in its symmetry. There is no overlap in the sisters' needs. Neither one's interest in the oranges impinges on the other's. What happens if the problem is not quite so tidy? The easy win-win solution vanishes if one recipe calls for both rind and juice. One of the sisters would be forced to give up something she wants. The negotiation suddenly begins to look a lot more complicated, and agreement requires another level of communication.
Make no mistake. Focusing on the problem can take you further than adversarial win-lose confrontation. The people involved in any negotiation do have different interests. By capitalizing on those differences, you can come up with trade-offs, rind for juice. You can swap something you don't care about for something that does matter to you. You might have a different appetite for risk or be operating under different time constraints, and you can take advantage of these disparities. You can pay or be paid in different currencies, exchanging part of the raise you want for an extra week's vacation, but no matter how creative you are in searching out mutual benefits, you cannot take the people out of the problem. Sometimes the people are the problem.
The problem-solving orientation skews the negotiation process toward rational analysis. It assumes you can pretty much figure out what motivates the other party and trade on that. It's great if you can gain her trust, but you don't really need to work at getting her cooperation. She'll jump at a creative idea that meets her needs. As a rational decision maker, you assume, she is bound to make the right choice.
But negotiators are not always rational. When people bargain, they bring their idiosyncrasies to the table -- their disposition toward conflict, their biases, remembered slights or successes, and their feelings about each other. Dirty dishes in the sink and an overflowing laundry basket can have more impact on where a family decides to spend its vacation than its frequent flyer miles. Bargainers can have concerns that have nothing to do with the problem but affect its resolution. They might be worried about a sick child or the extra time they have to spend with a frail parent. They might think they are losing their edge at the office and feel obliged to take a strong stand.
Negotiation is a vehicle for problem solving. But any negotiation is also a form of social interaction; it involves a you and a them. Unspoken wants and expectations come into play that interfere with "getting to yes." In order to solve the orange problem in the real world, each sister would have to work to bring the other to the point where she saw the value of compromise. Good ideas, good trades, are not enough. You might have more creative solutions to your own particular orange problem than you know what to do with. Your real challenge might be getting the other party to give your proposals a hearing, particularly if he or she is perfectly content with things as they are.
The Shadow Negotiation
As we talked to women about what happens when they negotiate, we learned that a good idea alone rarely carries the day. Negotiations are not purely rational exercises in problem solving. They are more akin to conversations that are carried out simultaneously on two levels. First there is the discussion of substance -- what the bargainers have to say about the problem itself. But then there is the interpersonal communication that takes place -- what the talk encodes about their relationship. Yes, people bargain over issues, but they also negotiate how they are going to negotiate. All the time they are bargaining over issues, they are conducting a parallel negotiation in which they work out the terms of their relationship and their expectations. Even though they seldom address the subject directly, they decide between them whose interests and needs command attention, whose opinions matter, and how cooperative they are going to be in reaching an agreement. This interchange, often nonverbal and masked in the positions taken on issues, has a momentum all its own, quite apart from the substance of what is being discussed.
We call this parallel negotiation the shadow negotiation. This shadow negotiation takes place below the surface of any debate over problems. As bargainers try to turn the discussion of the problem to their advantage or persuade the other side to cooperate in resolving it, they make assumptions about each other, what the other person wants, his or her weaknesses, how he or she is likely to behave. They size each other up, poking here and there to find out where the give is. They test for flexibility, trying to gauge how strongly an individual feels about a certain point.
How you resolve the issues hinges on the actions you take in the shadow negotiation. If you don't move to direct the shadow negotiation, you can find the agreement tipping against you. The shadow negotiation is no place to be a passive observer. You can maneuver to put yourself in a good position or let others create a position for you. Your action -- or inaction -- here determines what takes place in the negotiation over problems.
Impressions count. Slight changes in positioning can cause a major shift in the dynamics within the shadow negotiation. You want to move into a position from which you can claim your place at the table. At the same time, you need to encourage your counterpart to collaborate with you in fashioning an agreement that works for both of you.
The Twin Demands of the Shadow Negotiation: Advocacy and Connection
To hold your own in the shadow negotiation, you don't have to be brash or aggressive. You do need to be an advocate for your interests. Through strategic moves you position yourself in the shadow negotiation so that the other party takes your demands seriously. You also turn any attempts to put you on the defensive. In effect, your advocacy defines your claim to a place at the table. It tells the other side not only that you are going to be an active player, but that you will not and do not need to settle for less than you deserve.
Active positioning is critical to how you negotiate the issues. The impressions you create in the shadow negotiation determine how much give and take there will be over the issues and influence any agreement you make. If you are unsure of yourself or doubt whether your demands are justified or legitimate, you will have a tough time convincing others to give them much weight. Bargainers are quick to ferret out points of weakness, where you are tentative or vulnerable. You must be ready to move in the shadow negotiation not just to promote your interests but to block any attempt to undermine your credibility.
The messages you send in the shadow negotiation establish your advocacy. But you cannot pay attention only to gaining an advantage for your demands and to how you are positioned in the negotiation conversation. Any good solution requires compromise, concessions, and creativity on both sides. Concentrate only on your agenda, promote it at the other party's expense, and she has little incentive to cooperate. Regard her as an enemy and pretty soon she starts acting like one -- blind to the interests you share.
To find common ground, you have to work together, not against each other. This is where the skills of connection come into play. It takes sensitivity and responsive action to draw out what other people have on their minds in a negotiation. Often these hidden agendas are their real agendas. Unless bargainers are explicitly encouraged to talk about them, they will hesitate, fearing that any candor will be used against them. They don't want to tip their hand.
There is a pragmatic reason behind this attentiveness to relationship building in the shadow negotiation. Show the others involved that you value them and their ideas, and there is a good chance they will reciprocate. You'd be surprised how quickly they become more open in voicing the reasons for their demands and more receptive to listening to yours. But establishing a connection with the other party does a good deal more than facilitate equal airtime. When you each feel free to engage in an open exchange that flows both ways, you can confront the real issues rather than their proxies. Different perspectives surface and point to other, more creative ways of resolving the issues than either of you can contemplate on your own.
Advocacy and connection go hand in hand in successful negotiation, and you establish the terms of both in the shadow negotiation. Using strategic moves and turns, you create your own space in the conversation. You cannot let a need for responsive and open exchange hold your own interests hostage. You must lay the groundwork for dialogue with a forceful advocacy. The other person has to have something and someone to connect with for the skills of connection to work. But those skills hold a larger promise. They enable you to build a relationship across differences so that you are both committed to working collaboratively on a mutual solution.
What Does Gender Have to Do with Negotiation?
Almost without exception, the women we interviewed could analyze a problem or a situation with great skill. Yet they stumbled in the shadow negotiation. The reason became clear the more we talked with them. Problems can be and often are gender neutral. But surprising things happen in negotiations. Unrecognized expectations and unwarranted assumptions come into play. And gender often sets them off.
Because we experience negotiation in such a personal way, we look for personal reasons why being a woman matters more at some times than at others. Something in the chemistry of this particular negotiation, we figure, makes gender an issue. But even when we don't have a strong visceral reaction, gender colors our experience. Any negotiation is caught in a web of influence, social values, and informal codes of conduct. Social norms or standards that seem at first blush to have nothing to do with gender might generate troubling expectations about what we should and can do as women. Resources are often unevenly divided along gender lines. As a result, what appears to be a benign or even playing field might, in fact, slope against us.
To a great extent, how we see gender determines how we deal with its effects in the shadow negotiation. We can consider being a woman a hindrance in negotiation and take seriously Professor Higgins's exhortation in My Fair Lady: "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" Alternatively, we can celebrate our differences and adopt the approach of Sally Field and Dolly Parton in the movie Steel Magnolias. When Steel Magnolias negotiate, they tap feminine strengths to temper confrontational impulses and encourage collaborative exchange. Or we can focus on the social dynamic set in motion when common yardsticks used to measure performance don't fit a woman's experience.
Professor Higgins's advice. For the Professor Higginses of this world, the gender glass is half empty for women. They are not, by nature, bad negotiators. Socialized to be mothers and caretakers, they have never been schooled in the art of hard-nosed bargaining. They can, however, learn the "rules of the game." A woman need not fare badly in a salary negotiation or put in a double shift at home and at work. If she has not been able to argue her case for equal pay for equal work or prevent her colleagues from talking over her, she can study how to be more assertive, more strategic in her thinking, and less emotional.
The Professor Higgins approach is a remedial one. It assumes that individual deficiencies can be patched up with sufficient study and rigorous discipline. Passivity, for example, is a personal liability that can be corrected by training. The fault rests squarely on the particular woman's shoulders. She needs a "cure." Conveniently overlooked is the extent to which that cure will always be incomplete. No matter how hard a woman tries to learn the rules of the game, she will always play the game as a woman. Adopting aggressive behavior or a more "masculine" way of speaking in a negotiation can backfire. Instead of gaining her a voice and acceptance, it can provoke censure or backlash.
Remedial programs like these hold out a dubious promise: If you patch yourself up -- fill in your obvious deficiencies and acquire the necessary skills -- you can play the game as well as, or better than, many men. By recommending the wholesale assimilation of "good" masculine qualities, however foreign, advice like this encourages a woman to blame only herself when she is underpaid, overworked, or simply overlooked, invisible. The fault lies with her -- in some inadequacy, in something she did or failed to do -- not in the imbalances in the system itself.
The Steel Magnolias' answer. Wait a minute, some critics say. Femininity is not an encumbrance. It gives a woman an edge, assets she can use to her advantage. Rather than lament the lack of assertive independence or competitive drive in women, why not celebrate an expressive, emotional, caring femininity? Women, through their capacity to mother and from their subordinate status at work, have developed not just coping mechanisms but real strengths. Empathy, an intuitive aptitude for collaboration, the ability to connect with others rather than to remain distanced as an independent actor, an instinctive feeling for "relationship" -- these skills and inclinations carry an unrealized advantage in the new interconnected world of business. Women, it is suggested, build rapport and reach joint solutions more easily men do precisely because they cooperate and empathize more naturally.
This thinking successfully challenges the notion that women are in some way deficient or inadequate. It runs into difficulty, however, when it assumes that a constellation of certain traits and qualities makes up the "female essence." This premise washes out differences among women. The problem is not that women do not have these special qualities. Many do. But others enjoy the challenge of competition; they are not by nature only concerned with others.
There is also some wishful thinking involved in declaring feminine attributes unqualified assets uniformly useful in negotiation. These "feminine" skills, far from being an advantage, can undermine a woman when she negotiates. If she is not careful, her attachment to relationship can be exploited and used against her. Of course, the helpful female colleague does not mind shouldering the lion's share of the work and ending up with none of the credit. Of course, a woman negotiating a severance package will sacrifice her financial interests to maintain cordial relations with her former employers. Taken to extremes, the feminine advantage does not gain a woman much credit when she negotiates. While her empathetic male counterpart earns praise for his "people" skills, she is just acting like a woman. And if she is really successful, she is accused of being manipulative, of using feminine wiles to get her way. That is the flint behind the honey in a Steel Magnolia's voice, the reason for the hint of the pejorative in the term's common usage.
There is a more damaging objection. Praise of the "feminine," when unqualified, makes it easy to discount or ignore the extent to which influence follows gender lines. As one commentator put it, an emphasis on women's special qualities of caring and nurturing amounts to a "setup to be shafted." In an unequal world, such critics argue, difference will always mean less and women will generally get less when they negotiate. In other words, the doubts women experience about their ability to do well often tell more about status, about bumping up against seemingly immovable walls and ceilings, about having less clout, than they reveal about underappreciated skills and abilities.
We are using the exaggerations of Professor Higgins and the Steel Magnolia for effect. They point to the extremes in the advice directed at women, but they also illustrate the extent to which we personalize the challenges gender creates in negotiation. On the one hand, it is our weakness and so we need to remedy it. On the other, it is our strength, but we must be wary in how we use it. But not all the challenges gender poses in negotiation are rooted in personal causes. However inclined we as individuals might be to view supposed differences as a handicap or a strength, a woman quite simply has to work harder than a man to get what she wants in a negotiation. When others automatically assume she will not push her own interests, they offer less, are more difficult to bring to the table, make unreasonable demands, and say no more freely. They might doubt her competence, her ability to be forceful and stand her ground under pressure. The power dynamics in the relationship or the organization might work against her. To counter this momentum, she might repudiate those qualities that have traditionally been associated with women -- an ability to connect with other people, the capacity to listen. Empathy, she reasons, is not going to get her very far when she faces a hard bargaining situation -- particularly when the other person interprets her concern as a sign that she will not put up much resistance. But being tough or hard-nosed does not seem to solve the dilemma either.
The yardstick explanation. Gender is not a "woman's" problem -- a question of whether women have deficiencies or special qualities. Although gender figures in most human relations, we deny its pervasiveness, preferring instead to see egalitarian gender neutrality in our relationships and in our organizations. Yet to a large extent, we still maintain implicit standards for behavior that can have a different impact on women than men. Standards generally reflect the experience of the people setting them. And, by and large, men do the setting in our society. As a result, their experience becomes the yardstick for measuring what is normal. And, in a masked exercise of power, that standard is then rather cavalierly assumed to be gender neutral.
Think, for a minute, about the criteria most often used to decide whether an employee is on a fast track and ripe for promotion. He or she puts work first. Loyalty and ambition are gauged by the time committed to the job. A woman who has primary responsibility at home, which is often the case, inevitably faces distinct disadvantages when measured by this yardstick. She might be a valuable employee precisely because of her ability to juggle conflicting demands on her time and to set priorities, but these abilities have not been factored into the definition of the "ideal employee." When she goes to negotiate a promotion or a salary increase, that unspoken standard follows her into the room. It does not matter that the yardstick narrows the talent pool and might actually encourage bad work practices, a self-perpetuating crisis mode where pulling an all-nighter or emergency after-hours meetings becomes the norm rather than the exception. Late at night nobody stops to question the norm or how it gives an advantage to anyone who measures up but penalizes those who don't.
Yardsticks like these can be demoralizing for a woman negotiator if their gender bias is not recognized. When the standard provides no room for what a woman brings to the table, she often stops seeing what she does right. In the middle of a seminar, Liz, a consultant in a national firm, confessed that she was a terrible negotiator. Always, she said, she failed in her efforts at self-promotion. After a sales call on a prospective client, for example, Liz's boss used the cab ride back to the office for an impromptu lecture on her "passive" approach. To attract clients, he stressed, Liz had to emphasize the "value-added" she contributed. Liz had always felt uncomfortable concentrating on her role. As a rule, she preferred to find out what the client needed and only then to talk about the ways in which the firm could help. Because Liz's practice of negotiation went so against the grain at the firm, she considered herself out-of-step and inept. Even by her own tally, her quite considerable skills had little value. That she met with such success she attributed not to her deft handling of clients but to the luck of the draw in ending up with a disproportionate share of congenial ones. Liz was actually a terrific negotiator. More often than not, a sales call would be followed by a request from a client that she handle the account. Her boss passed along these messages, but his manner encouraged her to discount them and she did.
Yardsticks like these make us question our notions of what it takes to be an effective negotiator. Like the proverbial fish unaware its environment is wet, we often swim in gendered waters in negotiation without realizing it. The more aware we are of just how wet the water can be, the better able we will be to handle the gendered backwash. Should we be so quick to assume, as Liz did, that the conventional wisdom about the effective negotiator is gender neutral?
The "Model" Negotiator
A good deal of ink has been spilled about the personal characteristics that make for success in negotiation. Most of it starts with the premise that the effective negotiator is a results-oriented problem solver. Here, too, the emphasis on problem solving causes trouble. Let's look at the person who emerges once we make that assumption.
* Effective negotiators are tough, tireless, and determined. They promote their interests aggressively and need persuasive reasons to temper their demands.
* Effective negotiators are prepared. They know going into a negotiation what they want and identify and roadblocks ahead of time.
* Effective negotiators are decisive and clear.
* Effective negotiators are versatile in their tactics. They don't hesitate to bluff or stonewall if it gets them a better deal. But they can be concerned and caring if that works to their advantage.
* Effective negotiators are objective and unemotional. They employ emotions, such as anger or disappointment, tactically.
* Effective negotiators are focused. They keep their eyes on the goal.
The image of the effective negotiator as a problem solver succeeds on one front: It quite nicely debunks the mythology that skillful bargainers are the result of a felicitous genetic combination. The model negotiator sketched above does not rely on God-given talents. Successful results come from hard work -- analyzing the situation, planning a strategy, thinking through options, and making constant adjustments. But what about the person actually doing all this work?
Problems and their analysis may be gender neutral, but the conventional wisdom about the model negotiator as problem solver is decidedly not. The effective negotiator turns out to look remarkably like a man. He has all the positive qualities we associate with masculinity: competitiveness, independence, objectivity, self-confidence, and coolness under presure. Of course, the model doesn't fit every man. There are the bullies who dominate by force rather than the forcefulness of their arguments. Then there are the avoiders who run for cover at the first sign of conflict. But, by and large, the effective negotiator is measured by a masculine yardstick. That standard shadows the male negotiator whenever he bargains, whatever his negotiating style. He can afford to be conciliatory because it is assumed that when the going gets rough, he'll get tough.
But what about a woman? Some of us have no difficulty seeing ourselves in the description of the model negotiator. Still the model poses problems -- men and women alike. A Barron's cartoon encapsulates the dilemma. Two businesspeople, a man and a woman, are standing, briefcases in hand, outside an ominously closed conference room door. The woman has a word of caution for her male colleague: "Just don't let them see your feminine side." Clearly the cartoon woman subscribes to the conventional wisdom about the model negotiator. A man and a woman can only gain from an ability to stand up under pressure and let their competitive juices flow, while expressing concern for others is apt to undermine their efforts.
But the model negotiator can have more significant consequences when the person showing that feminine side is a woman. Consider the following items taken from the Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire, a test to measure an individual's femininity or masculinity.
stands up under pressure
makes decisions easily
never gives up easily
aware of others' feelings
warm to others
devotional to others
Questions in tests like these are posed as forced choices. They look for differences and not surprisingly they find them. In real life, people are more complicated than simple either/or categories. We are all an idiosyncratic mix of personal traits and characteristics, and none of us fits uniformly into one column or the other. Despite the exaggeration the tests produce, however, they do catch something of our beliefs about men and women. Women are expected to fall more often in the right column and men in the left. And the traits on the left have a different orientation than those on the right. They support individual autonomy.
Although negotiation takes place between and among people, requiring some degree of cooperation, the model negotiator is essentially an independent actor calculating how to achieve his ends. The stress falls squarely on talents that contribute to individual success and excludes others that are needed to make interactions work. When we pay attention only to the analytic or independent components of a negotiation, the shadow negotiation disappears -- and with it, to a large extent, the call for relational skills. The effective negotiator drawn to these specifications deploys only certain qualities and abilities. Other -- equally important -- skills get erased. And the skills that disappear are those traditionally associated with women.
Something else falls out from comparisons like these. No woman, however competent, can pull off what is essentially a male performance. She will always be considered somewhat deficient, lacking the objectivity and competitiveness necessary to stay in the negotiation. This sleight of hand presents a real quandary for a woman when she negotiates. She cannot, by definition, fit the model. However she chooses to do her bargaining, she is caught in a Catch-22. Her behavior will be deviant when she tries to adopt the standard and when she doesn't. If she acts like a woman, her skills are devalued. Her intuition, concern for others, and emotionality interfere with any logical discussion. If she patterns her behavior on the model, she pays attention only to the rational or autonomous side of the negotiation and fails to bring into play her relational skills. At the same time, she might be judged harshly for being unfeminine, pushy, and unsympathetic. We are by no means implying that she should refrain from forcefully pursuing her interests -- only that a negative reaction can be anticipated and has to be managed in the shadow negotiation.
As women, we take our differences and our competence into every negotiation. These can be turned to our advantage, but they have to be recognized as valuable, not erased -- by us or by our counterparts. We need, in effect, to revise the standard. Even the terminology that we use to describe negotiation betrays the need for revision. Participants in a negotiation are characterized as "adversaries" or the more distanced but chilly "other party." The words themselves evoke either a competitive contest or a faceless battle of wits. Some negotiations are contests, but not all, and some that are are do not need to be. In fact, so long as negotiators operate with this mental metaphor in mind, the rapport necessary to settle disputes collaboratively remains elusive. Without a genuine responsiveness to the other person, we cannot draw out his or her perspectives. As a consequence, we deprive ourselves (and the other person) of any chance to explore ideas that just might lead us to a creative solution.
The issues gender raises in negotiation are not about either/or choices -- between adopting a "masculine" or a "feminine" style. We need not so much a gender-neutral understanding of effectiveness but one that allows us to use all our skills and intelligences. Certainly we must cultivate an aptitude for analysis and self-promotion. But it is equally clear we need to hone our relational skills.
The influence gender exerts on the negotiation process varies greatly. It can be nonissue, or its effects can be a nonissue, or its effects can be exacerbated, particularly if imbalances in power exist. But whenever gender insinuates itself into the shadow negotiation, we can take steps to lessen the impact. As empowered advocates and connected negotiators, we can move to bring other people's perceptions into alignment with our sense of who we are and what we want to accomplish. The job at hand for any woman negotiating is to be aware of these perceptions and to manage them actively.
Inside a Shadow Negotiation
Let's take a look inside a shadow negotiation and chart how it affects the way in which the issues are framed and resolved. Elizabeth and Will are physicians in a small HMO located in a suburb outside Atlanta. The two, both in their early thirties, get along well. One or the other must be on duty when the center is open, and they routinely split weekend and evening shifts. But friction erupts over the summer vacation schedules.
Will: I'm going on a fishing trip with three other guys the last week in June. Pencil me in for that time slot.
Elizabeth: Well, um, actually, that's not okay. That week is a problem for me. My mother's moving into a new apartment. Remember? She has to be out of our old house by the end of the month, and I've promised to help pack up and get her settled in her new place.
Will: I can't change my plans. If I don't go, the trip gets canceled and our deposit's down the drain. Shift your mother's move back a week.
Elizabeth: I feel terrible about this, but that would really frazzle my mother. We'd have to put everything in storage. She can't move into the new place until the first.
Will: So? She's going to have to put some stuff in storage anyway, and she could stay with you for the week.
Elizabeth: Now, that I really don't want to do. How about splitting the week? I could move her in over the weekend...It would be a hassle, but then you could leave on Monday.
Will: You gotta be kidding.
Will slips his claim into a casual conversation with no warning, catching Elizabeth off-guard. He also introduces the issue not as a request to be negotiated but as a statement of fact. By suggesting a compromise, Elizabeth makes it clear she has not been fooled. They are going to negotiate their way to a solution.
The two go around and around, Will holding out for the week and Elizabeth putting out suggestions for compromise. Will gets increasingly angry and loses his temper. Upset, Elizabeth starts to waver. She hates it when anyone yells at her. To buy some peace, she says she'll put on her thinking cap.
She not only thinks about what they should do, she spends a sleepless night worrying. Her mother, although difficult, can stay for a week. The experience just won't be pleasant for either of them. If Elizabeth is going to shuffle things around, suffer the inconvenience, she wants something in return. Summer is coming. She'll trade first choice on the duty roster for July and August. That seems fair to her.
Elizabeth: You can have the vacation week. (Will smiles.) But I want first dibs on the summer schedule. (Will stops smiling.)
Will: No way. What does the call schedule have to do with vacation? You don't really need that week. You just said so. Done Fineshed. Thanks.
Elizabeth: Not hardly. You get the week. I get first choice this summer. That's a fair trade. If you don't give me the summer, you can't have the week.
Will: This is going nowhere. I'm not going to tie up my summer.
Will and Elizabeth have reached a pivotal moment -- that point when a negotiation can move forward along various paths or become deadlocked. How did they get there? The situation has all the ingredients needed for some horse-trading. Surely they can work out a deal.
Both Elizabeth and Will have been remiss, making plans without clearing the vacation schedule first. So they have a mutual problem. Neither can solve it independently, although Will makes a valiant attempt. He raises the issue as a nonproblem -- "Pencil me in." He might have been trying to slip one by Elizabeth, getting her consent before she even realized what was happening. That's a common ploy in the shadow negotiation. We've all emerged from casual encounters like these wondering how we agreed to something or even if we had agreed.
Even though Will's maneuver does not hoodwink Elizabeth, it does gain him a tactical advantage. He frames the negotiation, staking out a definite position. The week should be his. His subsequent comments put the onus of making that happen on Elizabeth: "You could shift....She could stay with you."
Elizabeth and Will talk about their problem, but what they say and how they say it betray a lot about their interpersonal relationship. When Will says "You could shift your plans," he is sending a message about how they can resolve the argument. But he is also sending another message that communicates quite specific things about the relationship he thinks exists between the two of them. This message says "You could shift your plans." Will assumes Elizabeth will be the one to do the adjusting, the one to come up with a solution. And she reinforces his impression when she agrees to put on her thinking cap. All he has to do is wait.
Will fits the image of the model negotiator. He conducts himself as an independent actor and concentrates on furthering his own interests. Sensing no compelling reason to compromise, he doesn't deviate from his plan. He also uses emotion strategically, knowing his shouting will throw Elizabeth off-stride and put her on the defensive. His angry rejection of Elizabeth's trade is calculated, rather than real. He aims to get her to accommodate him.
Elizabeth, by contrast, pushes for a solution that is acceptable to her, but she also wants Will to feel good about it. It is Elizabeth who worries when they cannot agree. It is Elizabeth who takes on the burden of producing the solutions. Rather than insist that she get her way, 100 percent, she proposes a compromise -- splitting the week -- and then comes up with a creative trade -- priority on the summer schedule for the week.
Both Elizabeth and Will get tangled up in gendered expectations -- the independent male and the caring female. If Will assumes Elizabeth will be the concerned one, Elizabeth just as readily concludes that Will will not. Not only does Elizabeth take on the more caring role, Will expects her to do so. Ironically, Elizabeth's efforts to accommodate Will's needs signal to him that she probably won't put up more than a token fight for the week. In a way, her flexibility feeds his intransigence. He waits for Elizabeth to flinch, then summarily dismisses her first compromise. When she does not relent and puts conditions on her subsequent proposal, he gets angry. She, meanwhile, silently disparages his inflexibility and the greater importance he attaches to going fishing with his buddies than he accords her family responsibilities.
Will and Elizabeth have come to an impasse. Impatient with going around in circles, Will decides to bluff. "We'll flip a coin," he says. "Heads and the week's mine." His stratagem trips him up. Elizabeth, rather than giving in as he expects, goes along. The toss turns up tails, but Elizabeth frets over the outcome.
Elizabeth: I'm sorry. I feel terrible. You have to cancel your plans. Tell me you're not mad. Friends?
A few days later, a business conference comes up for one of Will's friends, and the fishing trip gets rescheduled anyway. But Will never tells Elizabeth.
Advocacy, Connection, and the Shadow Negotiation
Even though the toss goes Elizabeth's way, she remains dissatisfied. They didn't do such a good job of negotiating, she thinks, if the two of them were forced to let chance resolve their dispute. As many of us do, Elizabeth replays the negotiation in her mind, looking for where she went wrong, wondering whether she could have discovered the right solution if she just kept at the problem.
Elizabeth does not go astray in how she approaches the problem of the vacation schedule. That is pretty simple. She stumbles in the shadow negotiation. While she concentrates on the problem, searching for a workable compromise, Will puts all his efforts into getting his way. By taking sole responsibility for the problem, she leads Will to believe that she will be the one making all the concessions. Once Will solidifies this position in the shadow negotiation, no amount of creative problem solving on Elizabeth's part can change the perceptions at work. Will simply interprets those efforts as signals that she will give him what he wants.
In the following chapters we lay out a different path to becoming an effective negotiator than the problem-driven one Elizabeth chooses -- one that equips you to position yourself in the shadow negotiation through empowering moves and connecting overtures. Our blueprint for success draws equally on advocacy and connection. A thoughtful advocacy gets you into a position where you can be comfortable and effective in pressing your demands. An equally important part of this advocacy comes in convincing your counterpart that it is perfectly natural for you to promote your interests.
In the best negotiations, strong advocates connect with each other. The person with whom you are negotiating must be able to see your efforts to get connected as something more than a prelude to concession. Collaborative dialogue requires some reciprocity, some give-and-take, and openness to other perspectives. As a forceful advocate you establish your voice in that dialogue. As a connected negotiator you engage the other side in a conversation in which differences can surface without personal discord. The relationship-building implicit in connection should not, however, be confused with creating a superficial harmony. It does not demand that you satisfy the interests of others at the cost of your own. You do not foster a climate in which innovative proposals can be generated by making concessions unilaterally nor by being the only one cooperating. Both advocacy and connection require disciplined and deliberate efforts. They build on each other.
To give you a preview of how advocacy and connection support each other, let's rewind Elizabeth and Will's negotiation back to where Elizabeth proposes to trade the vacation week for first choice on the summer call schedule. In this replay, Elizabeth moves to check Will's efforts to cast her in the role of accommodating female.
Will: You gotta be kidding. (angry exchange) This is going nowhere. I'm not going to tie up my summer.
Elizabeth: Okay. Time out. We have a problem. I'm fresh out of ideas. And you don't have any, Maybe we should just let Joe [the medical director] decide.
Elizabeth figures Will won't under any circumstances want to appear to his boss as someone who cannot work out a simple conflict in vacation schedules. Of course, Elizabeth doesn't either, but she uses the implicit threat to put Will on notice. She is not going to do all the compromising and produce all the ideas. Will has to pull his weight and be more flexible if he doesn't want to involve the medical director. Simultaneously, she takes away Will's veto power and restores balance to the shadow negotiation.
Having a repertory of strategic moves is essential when you are negotiating, particularly with someone like Will whose natural inclination is to play the strong male against what he assumes to be your accommodating female. The people you negotiate with need to know that they cannot push you around before you can convince them to take you and your interests seriously. Elizabeth achieves this objective. Will immediately begins to backpedal.
Will: Let's not be so hasty. We don't need to drag Joe in.
Elizabeth can take her victory and run. But Elizabeth's charge in the shadow negotiation is to do more than get the upper hand. She needs Will's cooperation to reach a decision that they both can accept. After all, they are still going to be working together long after Elizabeth's mother is settled into her new apartment and summer is over. Elizabeth cannot rest with issuing a threat. An outcome forced by her is just as unproductive as one imposed by Will. Under either scenario, resentments would fester. She is after Will's participation, not his capitulation. She couples the strong strategic move with a connected overture to draw Will back into the discussion.
Elizabeth: If we don't ask Joe to intervene, I'm not sure what we can do. We're both in a tight spot. I know I wouldn't want to disappoint my friends. But I wasn't kidding when I said I was tapped out in the idea department. What do you think we should do?
Will: I guess I didn't expect this to be such a big deal. It's gotten all out of proportion. Why don't we just...
Elizabeth comes right out and asks for Will's cooperation. She is careful to express her concern for his predicament. She never tries to apportion the blame for letting the situation deteriorate. Rather, by acknowledging Will's concerns, she creates an opening for him to respond in a more constructive, participatory way. He might not. But she has given him the chance, and she still reserves the option of forcing the issue.
Negotiating skills are critical for us as women. We depend on them in specific situations -- to get a raise or a good price on a car, say. But we also call on them more generally just to get done what needs doing at work and at home. Negotiating skills are not a magic wand, however. No matter how adept we become, we will continue to juggle time and conflicting responsibilities. When all is said and done, there will still be only twenty-four hours in a day. Skillful negotiation cannot change this simple fact of life. But it does allow us to exert greater control over what happens during those twenty-four hours.
The more skillful we become as advocates in a collaborative process, the more we can expand our opportunities. When we use advocacy purposefully, not to overpower the opposition but to establish credibility, we lay the groundwork for building mutual respect. Negotiators who trust each other can probe more deeply and more candidly, and the prospects for innovative solutions increase geometrically. In a complex and rapidly changing world, no one can have all the answers. The opportunity to create dialogue, to benefit from other viewpoints and other people's kills -- this is part of the promise of negotiation. It is one that women are well poised to realize.
Copyright © 2000 by Deborah Kolb, Ph.D., and Judith Williams, Ph.D.