The secret to becoming a better negotiator

Article by Caroline Zielinski /
Daily Life /
August 15, 2014 /
Click here to view original /

As women, we are often told that when it comes to negotiating, we’re decidedly disadvantaged. Not because we’re less smart, driven or capable: but simply because we were born female.

A recent article in Forbes, titled ‘Why Women Must Ask (The Right Way)’, argues that women need to accept that their gender is a problem when it comes to negotiating for anything – be it a higher salary, a car, or even a telephone deal. We are told that women “don’t prepare… [and] they don’t know how to tell their counterparty persuasively why they should get what they want”.

In addition, women apparently have “systematically lower expectations… [which leads to] lower outcomes, because expectations drive behaviour. So, they get less not because they are women, but because their expectations are lower”.

To compound this problem, a recent study by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania found that female negotiators were perceived as “easier to mislead than their male counterparts”.

After conducting several experiments, Laura J. Kray, Jessica A. Kennedy and Alex B. Van Zant discovered that women were generally considered to be kinder and warmer than men, which, translated to “less competent”.

Ironically, the study also found that “expectations about women’s relatively low competence explained why they were perceived as easier to mislead than men, and this held true for both male and female perceivers alike”.

The researchers concluded that when women negotiate they are more likely to be lied to, which increases their risk of entering into deals which are nothing less than shoddy.

The web is filled with real-life examples of this problem. One woman detailed her experience with a car salesman on Jezebel’s website, recalling how she was patronised and outright lied to when attempting to purchase a car.

“I looked at a vehicle, got approved for the financing of the vehicle, and went back the next day to seal the deal. When I returned, the car had been sold to someone else. The asshole salesman tried to tell me that, because I was approved for financing, I HAD to buy a car from them. I knew this was bullshit and told him so,” she wrote.

Unfortunately, the view that women are incapable of looking after their own affairs reaches far beyond the world of car purchasing.

Kathryn Spring, a customer service representative, said that when she wanted to ask for a promotion, she was forced by her direct supervisor to write an email to the area manager, waxing lyrical about the wonderful qualities of the supervisor and his encouragement that she apply for this promotion.

“He hovered over me the entire time, insisting I write it a particular way, because he said the big boss wasn’t going to listen to me without his help,” she said.

The underlying problem here, it seems, is that the process of negotiating is itself gendered.

Even the study – which was clearly designed to expose the inherent bias against women when they dared to wander outside their gender-prescribed roles and actually try to take control of their own lives – unwittingly reiterated that “negotiating in general” was associated with “assertive behaviour”, which is most often attributed to men.

“Relatively intensified warmth prescriptions for women conflict with the assertive behaviours associated with effective negotiating in general,” the researchers wrote.

But Dr Lauren Rosewarne doesn’t think it’s all doom and gloom. The University of Melbourne senior lecturer says that while this is a real problem, the solution is in our hands (and minds). She believes women need to start thinking of themselves as capable and well-informed before bargaining.

“Women need to stop being worried about being ripped-off,” she says. “Research shows that women make the big purchases for the home, and also that they go in with knowledge about what the good’s price should be.”

As for being nice and warm, Dr Rosewarne says women need to do away with worrying about hurting the sale assistant’s feelings, and be more selfish when negotiating.

“Part of this is the fear of confrontation or causing offence,” she says. “We need to be less concerned about that, because really, why do you care what the person selling you something is feeling? Being selfish is likely to serve you better in these situations.”

Additionally, thinking that you need a man’s help when shopping for a car or any other traditionally ‘male’ items normalises the view that women need assistance when making expensive purchases or big decisions in their lives.

“Do we worry about being ripped-off when buying cosmetics? No, because we know more about those,” Dr Rosewarne says. “Women need to be confident of the price they want to pay for something. After all, the concept of value is elastic anyway – it’s only based on what someone is willing to pay for something.”

As history shows, gender roles take time to change, and the more women show up at a car yard brimming with confidence, the more likely they are to get a better deal.