Challenges Facing Women Negotiators: The Impact of Leadership Styles on Strategic Decisions

Negotiating skills and negotiation tactics for female bargainers at the negotiation table

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How leadership impacts the course of negotiations

Here are some negotiating skills and negotiation tactics for female negotiators to level the playing field in negotiation scenarios.

By now, most of us are aware that women appear to face significant hurdles in negotiation (see also, Negotiation Examples and Women Negotiators: Barriers to the Negotiation Table).


If you aspire to be a great leader, not just a boss, start here: Download our FREE Special Report, Real Leaders Negotiate: Understanding the Difference between Leadership and Management, from Harvard Law School.


The barriers women face in negotiations

To begin with, they are penalized for negotiating on their own behalf. In their research, Professor Hannah Riley Bowles of Harvard Business School, Professor Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, and Professor Lei Lai of Tulane University found that both male and female study participants were less interested in working with women who attempted to negotiate a better salary than they were with men who tried to negotiate a higher salary. The fact that women negotiators are generally less likely to initiate salary negotiations than men appears to be due at least in part to women’s awareness that negotiating could trigger this type of social backlash at the office.

People are also more likely to lie to female negotiators than to male negotiators, researchers Laura J. Kray and Alex B. Van Zant of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jessica A. Kennedy of the University of Pennsylvania found in a new study. Women were lied to more often because participants viewed them as less competent than men and thus less likely to question their lies. Both men and women also were more likely to give male negotiators preferential treatment by disclosing hidden interests.

Such stereotypes and biased treatment can significantly hinder women’s negotiated outcomes, putting them at an unfair advantage. The question is, how can we remedy this state of affairs? Experts have advocated a number of approaches.

Negotiation Tips for Achieving Better Results at the Negotiation Table

Here are three negotiation tips that focus on negotiating skills and negotiation tactics that women can use to achieve better results at the bargaining table:

Negotiation Tip #1

Be non-threatening. Past advice from experts such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has encouraged women to combine an assertive message with smiles, friendly gestures, and other non-threatening and traditionally feminine behavior.

Negotiation Tip #2

Be a team player. Women have also been encouraged to increase the odds of getting what they want by pointing out how their requests would benefit the organization rather than just themselves. This approach can work because it conforms to the gender stereotype that women are particularly concerned about others.

Negotiation Tip #3

Defensive measures. All of us, but women in particular, can guard against being taken advantage of in negotiation by engaging in thorough preparation and testing their counterparts’ claims. If a mechanic tells a woman who doesn’t know much about cars that she needs expensive repairs, for example, she should test this claim by talking to friends who know more about cars or getting a second opinion. (Of course, this advice applies to men who know little about cars as well!)

But it would be unfair to put the full burden of overcoming deeply ingrained gender biases on individual negotiators. Moreover, many women naturally bristle at the idea of engaging in more stereotypical behavior simply to avoid rocking the boat.

For these reasons, it may be even more important to address inequities in the way we and our organizations perceive and treat women negotiators. Steps such as the following can be more difficult to implement, but they offer a path toward real change.

3 Steps to Overcoming Bias in Negotiations

Audit your negotiating behavior. If you are ever tempted to lie to a fellow negotiator, consider whether gender could play a role. Are you inherently—and incorrectly—viewing the women negotiators you encounter as less competent or knowledgeable than the men you encounter? Lies and other unethical behavior can backfire by harming your reputation, particularly in our increasingly online world, and they also prevent us from reaching more creative solutions that could improve both parties’ results.

Raise standards. Look for ways to improve the standards that negotiators in your organization use in their negotiations. For example, your organization may be able to structure more equitable job negotiations by specifying salary ranges and set times for performance reviews and compensation discussions.

Educate and mentor. Organizations can educate their employees about common biases that negotiators face at the table and how they hold us all back. They can also establish mentoring programs to help women, minorities, and others feel more comfortable negotiating assertively on their own behalf.

By recognizing gender inequality in negotiations as a shared problem, we can both lessen the burden on women and promote more productive negotiations.

Related Negotiation Skills Article: Women and Negotiation – Barriers to Getting to the Table


If you aspire to be a great leader, not just a boss, start here: Download our FREE Special Report, Real Leaders Negotiate: Understanding the Difference between Leadership and Management, from Harvard Law School.


Originally published in 2014.

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