Both Feminine and Masculine Communication Styles Necessary for Durable Agreements
Recently, we made a snarky claim that women are better negotiators than men in response to a post claiming men are better negotiators than women. We even said women are much more naturally disposed than men to produce collaborative, durable agreements—meaning our agreements last.
While we collect anecdotal data from all our training participants that bears this claim out, we admit it’s pretty skewed as we typically only train women. And indeed, when you put one trained professional negotiator up against another trained professional negotiator, their gender is the least salient characteristic about them (Victoria said that).
What we do know is that women are naturally disposed (and socialized) to seek cooperation and agreement, and to be motivated by relationship and assuring that everyone’s needs are met. You could say those feminine qualities in any negotiator, male or female, provide the fuel for creating durable agreements.
So let’s take gender out of the equation and ask: Does collaborative, interest-based negotiation produce more durable results?
Before I get to the hard evidence, the best proof you can gather to answer this question is your own experience. Your own life.
If you and your mate are great at creating agreements around money, what’s your process? Your style of conversation? How do you reach agreement? And how durable have you found your agreements? Did you reach your objectives?
On the other hand, if you and your mate are stuck at Monopoly level and argue about money and one or the other of you hesitantly capitulates to the other about how you save, spend, or invest money, how durable is that agreement in your experience? Do you secretly siphon off cash here and there and then go out and buy table saws and patio furniture you try to hide in the basement? Do you sit down at your next money conversation and go over the very same territory as the last conversation because you were just never comfortable with the deal?
Now for some research…
James Savory, a commercial litagator turned mediator with Rapprocheand Berkeley Square Mediation in the UK researched this question (here).He begins by stating, “Every negotiator has a preferred style, based on his or her own experience of what works best in practice. But what is the actual evidence for the effectiveness of different styles, and can lessons be learnt from it?” Savory writes:
The most comprehensive research studies were those carried out by Gerald Williams and published in Legal Negotiation and Settlement (1983) and the follow-up article by Andrea Schneider ‘Shattering Negotiation Myths: Empirical Evidence on the Effectiveness of Negotiation Style’ (2002) 7 Harv. Negot. Rev. 143.
The common methodology involved asking lawyers to rate the lawyer with whom each had last negotiated by reference to a list of adjectives, bipolar statements, goals and objectives, and their effectiveness as a negotiator. The adjectives included, for example, “accommodating”, “perceptive” and “spineless”. The bipolar statements included “took an unrealistic opening position” / “took a realistic opening position”. Goals and objectives included “obtaining a profitable fee for self”, “getting a ‘fair’ settlement” and “maintaining or establishing good relations between parties”. Finally, effectiveness was rated on a scale from ineffective, through average, to effective.
Williams and Schneider first used statistical theory to divide the lawyers about whom they had received responses into clusters, which they labelled “competitive” or “cooperative” (Williams) and “adversarial” or “problem-solving” (Schneider). They then looked at the perceived effectiveness of the lawyers in each of those clusters.
The conclusion of these studies is that the cooperative / problem-solving negotiators are significantly more effective than the competitive / adversarial ones. According to Schneider, 54% of problem-solving negotiators, but only 9% of adversarial ones, were seen as effective. The differences between the effectiveness of the lawyers in the clusters are starkest in Schneider’s four-cluster analysis, labelled “true problem-solving”, “cautious problem-solving”, “ethical adversarial and “unethical adversarial”. The unethical adversarial were rated 75% ineffective and only 3% effective, whereas the true problem solvers were rated 72% effective and only 1% ineffective.
We have to separate the goals of the negotiation from our style as a negotiator…
From Savory again:
First, there is overwhelming academic and theoretical support, backed up by research, for the proposition that the old style of competitive bargaining alone is unlikely to produce the best results. It would be a resistant negotiator who determined to follow an exclusively adversarial, distributive and position-based strategy. But it is also clear that an individual’s interests cannot be served by following the opposite styles alone.
The other two contrasting pairs, distributive / integrative and problem-solving / adversarial, have different purposes, and are not just different words with similar meanings. Distributive / integrative refers to the aim of the negotiation at a particular moment, whereas problem-solving / adversarial refers to the overall style of the negotiator. Thus, it is possible to have a problem-solving negotiator operating in the distributive phase of a negotiation.
So what’s the bottom line? We have to be willing to use all the tools in our negotiation toolkit, using so-called feminine and masculine attributes of communication. Not only do we need to learn the principles and practices of interest-based negotiation, we must learn distributive bargaining (all of which we teach). Further, we need to recognize and navigate contentious tactics (ingratiation, shaming, blaming, threats, even violence). If we don’t, we run the risk of victimizing ourselves, trampling our values, and harboring long-lasting resentments.
In other words, we need to be at choice in negotiation, or we undermine the potential durability of our agreements.