The Perils of Negotiating with Women and How to Avoid Them

What it used to be like

When I was youngish attorney practicing in one of the oldest "White Shoe" law firms headquartered in Philadelphia, management disseminated the schedule for our upcoming retreat in the City of Brotherly Love.

One of the items was a "women lawyers only" negotiation seminar that promised to deliver the goods on how to negotiate like a man.

We women lawyers - partners and associates alike - thought we'd been doing a pretty damn effective job of negotiating with men and women colleagues, opposing counsel, referees, clients, judges, appellate courts and the like. We didn't cotton to being segregated into a seminar that assumed the men were doing a better job negotiating than we were.

We said no. Thank you very much. But no.

I never forgot this particular insult. Not bitter. Just wiser.

As my negotiation expertise grew, I realized that men could stand to learn a little bit about negotiating with women.

Below is #1 on the list. It's not #1 because of #metoo or political correctness or a feminist agenda. It's #1 because it's the place most men fail to get a better deal.

For Heaven’s Sakes, Don't Flirt

This should be obvious but I see men give deal points away over and over again to garner personal favors from their female bargaining partners. I'm not talking quid pro quo nor even suggesting that men are angling for romantic or sexual favors. They're just flirting. And it hurts their effectiveness. Not simply because it might offend their bargaining partner, but because it blurs their judgment.

I had one client - an extremely successful in-house counsel in a hot legal field who was working at the top of her game. The five men who interviewed her as a group and individually over the course of five or six bargaining sessions, would routinely position themselves to be the one to walk her to the elevator or all the way down to her car. Do I need to say she was blonde, lovely, animated and funny.

During a couple of the more "intimate" elevator conversations, two of her negotiation partners literally gave away deal points.

"You know, we're really not going to require you to move to Southern California," one of them said to her alone as he escorted her to the car.

This was late in the negotiation. We had phased our negotiation strategy around several issues that were important to her. The firm she was interviewing repeatedly stressed that she would have to move to Los Angeles. She was willing to travel but not to relocate. We believed that if the parties were able to close the monetary issues, the firm would be sufficiently incentivized to give up its relocation demand. So our plan was to raise it only toward the end of the deal-making sessions.

Turns out, we didn’t have to raise it at all. We could ask for something else in exchange for a concession on our part. This indiscretion and one other greatly reduced the law firm’s bargaining advantage. At the end of the day, we negotiated $500K more than had originally been put on the table. How much the “flirting concessions” affected that number, well never know. But affect it, these lapses in judgment did.

And by the way, this one of a kind specialist decided to stay with the firm she was with even though it meant she’d be making a couple of hundred thousand dollars less a year.

“That’s every year,” I said. “Not just this year, right?”

“I get it,” she replied, “but those guys were so odious, the money just wasn’t worth it.”

This is a single example. There are dozens of others. It’s not the women who lose when they perceive they’ve entered a male locker room filled with horny teens. It’s business and the professions and the particular businesses and professions that women decide they no longer want to be a part of or who they don’t want to join.

So keep your head clear of your physical attraction to the women with whom you're negotiating. It can only do you - and your own fortunes - harm.


Victoria PynchonComment