Gender differences in negotiations

by Simona Vasilache (Author) Madalina Voinea (Author) Mihaela Sava (Author)

Research Paper (postgraduate) 2020 49 Pages

Leadership and Human Resource Management - Generation Y, Generation Z


Table of Contents


A general perspective on negotiation
Situational factors
Structural Ambiguity
Gender Triggers
Assessing gender negotiation styles
Gender and negotiation performance
Salary differences at Organizational Entry
Prescriptive and descriptive sex stereotypes
Intra-household bargaining

Literature Review

Sampling and collection of data
Observations and recommendations





The most researched individual-difference topic in negotiation is that of gender differences. Whether there is a choice or not, every person is a negotiator in his own way. This capacity is achieved more or less at individual level. Human beings are not born with this quality, but they have the chance to gain it through experience, in accordance to their own personalities.

The purpose of this research is to examine how men and women think about negotiation, how they are treated within the negotiation process, the manner in which they are influenced by stereotypes as well as by other elements of social context, how they respond to tactics and to assess the main negotiating styles adopted by both men and women.

Nowadays, the negotiation process plays an essential role especially in the commercial transactions. Through it, people settle differences. “Negotiation in the classic diplomatic sense assumes parties more anxious to agree than to disagree.”, as stated by Dean Acheson.

The areas in which the negotiation matters increased over the years and the need to negotiate is recognized all over the world. The ability to negotiate successfully rests on a combination of analytical and interpersonal skills. The significance of this process became a precious and indispensable factor in any business’s effort made to acquire success. We may say that the negotiation represents the most important thing making the difference between companies that flourish and those that fail, this happening more due to the competitive field of business. An effective and efficient negotiation process is the one that makes sure the company thrives. This is where the negotiation skills come into sight. The individual personality can have a conclusive influence in the way a negotiation takes place.

Therefore, among those listed above, to the purpose of this paper also contributes the analysis related to the power of negotiation of both men and women as well as their behaviors and their specific practices. Alongside these, the thesis also gives on outlook in what concerns the women’s ability to negotiate, the importance of the existence of this capacity, the premise that men are better negotiators and the identification of these certain particular aspects.

The theme that will be the subject of the qualitative research summarizes the main elements that characterize men and women at the bargaining table, providing in this way the readers with an inside view in what concerns this process.

The utility of the paper consists in materializing the options presented above and comes into the aid of those interested in the subject. It addresses to a wide range of readers, from students to business people.


A general perspective on negotiation

Negotiation is a process that creates, reinforces, and reduces gender inequality in organizations, yet the study of gender in negotiation had little connection to the study of gender in organizations”. (Bowles, McGinn, 2008, p. 99).

The first extensive review of research on gender in negotiation was conducted by Rubin and Brown (1975). The negotiation researchers, supported by psychologists in individual-difference research, tried to explain negotiation behavior by testing stable personality differences (e.g., gender, authoritarianism). This research on individual-difference brought a multitude of contradictory findings. Looking for a personality-based explanation for the confusing results, Rubin and Brown stated that women are more interpersonally oriented than men, being more cooperative than them in many instances and more competitive in others. By the 1980’s, Rubin and Brown’s theory (1975) started to be in disagreement with the contemporary feminist ideals of minimalist gender differences because of the weak evidence, and due to this fact, the next decade upon the topic of gender fell in silence.

Gender differences have brought new interests in the study of bargaining, starting with the application of feminist theory to negotiation in the 1990s. According to Kolb and Putnam (1997), negotiation is a gendered activity, while for Gray (1994) negotiation is more focused on autonomous people who work to achieve instrumental outcomes. The way men and women negotiate is different and these differences are difficult to be detected because of the flaws in research. In the book “Her Place at the Table – A consideration of Gender Issues in Negotiations” (Harvard Business School, 1991, p. 273), the authors, Kolb and Coolidge, debate that research treats gender as “a stabl e set of characteristics that describe all women (or men) in negotiation situations”, making the findings of stable differences elusive and ignoring the differences between men and women.

Kray and Thompson (2005) brought out the potential moderators of gender effects in negotiation, through an extensive review of the literature on gender in negotiation, among which are the negotiating domain, the gender composition of the dyad, the negotiator’s representation role, the presence and surveillance of constituents, the stereotypes. In most studies, men’s performance was better than women’s when it comes to economic payoffs from negotiation, but under some conditions women’s payoffs exceeded men’s. Kray and Thompson (2005) came to the conclusion that the negotiating table is dominated by males – in terms of economic claims and stereotypically masculine social conception about effective negotiators – but the outcomes are brought by situational factors, not by stable, native differences between sexes.

It came into sight a feminist perspective on the study of gender in negotiation simultaneously with the rise of this social psychological “gender-in-context” perspective, being claimed that research on gender in negotiation had become a study of women’s obliteration from the male standard (Gray, 1994; Kolb & Putnam, 1997). The main argument was that masculine conceptions of negotiation were more privileged than the feminine ones, making a norm of being individualistic, competitive and transactional over collectivistic, cooperative and relational.

Negotiation researchers were also criticized by feminists because of their failure to take into consideration the differences in economic and social status between sexes that might influence negotiation (Kolb, Putnam, 1997). Kolb and Williams (2000) stated that the difference between the effects of gender on negotiation expectations and performance are due to the unspoken dynamics in gendered power relations within organizations.

All in all, there is an inconsistent tendency in negotiation behavior and outcomes to favor men over women when it comes to economic payoffs and there is a concomitant evidence of situational moderators of these gender effects.

Situational factors

Riley and McGinn propose in their research paper - “When Does Gender Matter in Negotiation?” (2002) - that there are two situational factors (structural ambiguity and gender triggers) that moderate gender effects in negotiation. According to them, structural ambiguity refers to “potential variation in a party’s perception of the bargaining range and appropriate standards for agreement”, while gender triggers are “situational factors that make gender salient and relevant to behavior or expectations”.

In order to foretell when gender is affecting social behavior, there should be identified those situations that harbor or eliminate the emergence of individual differences, in general, and those situations that initiate gender-based behavior and performance expectations, in particular.

There are two fundamental situational moderators that are known to influence the degree to which individual differences anticipate social behavior: the psychological strength of the situation and the presence of precipitating factors. According to Mischel (1977), the situations are divided in two categories. On one hand, strong situations “provide salient cues to guide behavior and have a fairly high degree of structure and definition, they suppress reliance on individual differences” and in contrast, weak situations “do not offer salient cues to guide behavior and are relatively unstructured and ambiguous, they foster the potential for individual differences to influence social behavior”. Strong situations eliminate gender differences (Mischel, 1977), the behavioral script being uniformly encoded. In order to expect behavior or performance to correlate with gender, this has to be salient and relevant. In weak situations, the roles of the actors should be improvised and the behavioral cues should be ambiguous. These are the situations in which gender-based social roles and stereotypes have an influence, when the actor is examining the environment and his/her past experience and mental schema for cues.

Structural Ambiguity

The perceptions over the economic structure of a negotiation shape the parties’ behavior and expectations regarding their performance. According to Riley and McGinn (2002), the economic structure of a negotiation is “a function of the pool of resources potentially available for distribution by the parties and the likely coordination points for agreement”. The pool can be either fixed or variable, as in single-issue price negotiation or multiple-issue negotiation. In order for the parties to coordinate on a specific agreement to point out of the potentially infinite set of possibilities, they can use focal points (e.g., a 50-50 split) and other standards for agreement (e.g., market values or social norms or fairness).

As mentioned above, the term structural ambiguity refers to the “degree of potential variation in a party’s interpretation of the economic structure of the negotiation” (Riley, McGinn, 2002). Ambiguity relates to situations in which the nature of the alternatives and the probabilities over alternatives are unknown.

A perfectly structurally unambiguous situation is characterized as having both negotiators conscious about the dimensions of the pool of resources available and able to recognize a mutual clear focal point for distribution of those resources. In correlation with Mischel’s definition (1977) of a “strong” situation, a structurally unambiguous situation determines uniform expectancies as to the appropriate response pattern and the parties are able to complete the mutually obvious transaction. As an example, in a study of negotiation made by McGinn in press, it was found that there is almost no structural ambiguity involved in price negotiations between friends. In such case, gender differences do not emerge, both parties agree upon the bargaining range.

When it comes to relatively structurally ambiguous negotiation, the parties rely on cues from the negotiating context, misconceptions, prior experience, in order to inform their behavior and performance expectations. It is predicted that in case of high structural ambiguity there is a greater potential for gender as well to influence parties expectations and performance. In negotiations, the level of structural ambiguity is high (See Fig. 1.1.), parties have to make an estimation of the available pool of the resources, determine what represents for them an attractive or unacceptable offer.

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Fig. 1.2.1. Masculine stereotyped negotiation (Bowles, 2005)

Gender Triggers

Gender triggers are “situational characteristics that make gender salient and relevant to behavior and/or performance expectations” (Riley, McGinn, 2002). They can influence negotiators by fulfilling gender-specific scripts, if there is enough structural ambiguity to allow for subjective interpretation and individual improvisation. Within negotiation, there is a wide range of potential gender triggers. They do not produce identical outcomes but they implicitly or explicitly increase the parties’ awareness of gender as a social factor.

One form of gender trigger represents gender-based social roles. Gender roles are “societal norms that prescribe what are attractive or appropriate situational response, based on the actor’s socially identified gender” (Eagly, 1987). If gender roles are salient, a man’s set of behaviors can be seen differently than the same set enacted by a woman. Gender-based performance stereotypes are another form of gender trigger. Widely held stereotypes or implicitly ones influence negotiation outcomes by fulfilling expectations about how good the performance of a negotiator will be based on his/her gender. Explicitly activated stereotypes produce counter-stereotypic negotiation results.

Another example of gender triggers is the economic structure of the negotiation: fixed-sum vs. variable-sum payoffs. It is proposed that the consistency between the economic structure of the negotiation and sex-stereotypes is a potential gender trigger. Being masculine is correlated with being assertive, analytical, dominant, competitive, individualistic, forceful and willing to take a stand, while being feminine is associated with being sensitive to others’ needs, compassionate, sympathetic. Negotiations with variable sum payoffs require a mix of these stereotypically masculine and feminine attributes, needing a cooperative and competitive style.

When it comes to competitive bargaining in fixed-sum negotiation, it is needed a masculine form of interaction and parties expect male negotiators to surpass female negotiators. Compared to women, in competitive bargaining, male negotiators have more confidence in their negotiating ability, they are more optimistic regarding their performance expectations and claim more value than female negotiators.

Representation role is another possible gender trigger and moderator of the consequence the gender has in bargaining. In the opposition of gender differences, independence and the promotion of self-interest is characteristic for agency while communality is specific for solidarity and the protection of others. When considering representation role a gender trigger, its effects are observed more in a women’s expectations and performances than in men’s. Women are exhibiting more constraints when they negotiate for themselves, fulfilling an agentic model, than when they negotiate for others, needing communal norms of behavior (See figure 1.2). On the other hand, men are more favored when representing themselves than when they are representing others in competitive negotiations, because of the traditional norms of masculine behavior found in the agentic model. All the negotiation researchers maintain the theory that expert negotiators must be capable of demonstrating both concern for self and other.

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Fig.1.2. Negotiating for self v. other (Bowles, 2005)

Theoretically, there is no reason for a negotiator not to be able to focus at the bargaining table on both himself/ herself and on the other, but practically, this task becomes more complicated because of the presence of gender stereotypes. As an example, a woman advocating too strongly for herself is perceived as being masculine, while a man advocating too strongly for others is perceived as feminine.

To conclude, the effects of gender on negotiation are feasible on two categories of situational factors: the degree of structural ambiguity and the presence of gender triggers. Gender has a small effect on negotiation expectations, behavior or performance at low levels of structural ambiguity and only if it is salient and relevant to parties’ interpretation of the negotiation, at a high structural ambiguity, it can be expected to observe gender differences. (See Fig. 1.3.)

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Fig.1.3. Ambiguity x Gender Triggers (Bowles, 2005)

Assessing gender negotiation styles

This sub-chapter was designed to assess the types of negotiators according to some well defined principles, to their gender characteristics, to their attitudes toward business, their way of negotiating and to present the small details in a behavior that make the difference at the negotiation table. It must be stated that the significance of this process became a precious and indispensable factor in any business’s effort made to acquire success. It can be said that the negotiation represents the most important thing making the difference between companies that flourish and those that fail, this happening more due to the competitive field of business. An effective and efficient negotiation process is the one that makes sure the company thrives. This is where the negotiation skills come into sight. The individual personality can have a conclusive influence in the way a negotiation is approached.

Therefore, the purpose of this sub-chapter is to analyze the types of negotiators’ behaviors based on their gender qualities and their specific practices as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each approach apart. Alongside these, the thesis also gives on outlook in what concerns the ability to negotiate of both men and women, the importance of the existence of this capacity, the nature of influence between personal behavior and bargaining and the identification of these certain particular aspects.

Moreover, due to the fact that the effectiveness of a negotiation process is measured on its closing stage and its outcome, it is believed that a certain behavior can lead to successful result. To sustain this affirmation, Charles B. Craver (2003, p. 48) talks about the fact that the ways a person can act in a negotiation are strongly influenced by how that person is approached. For example, it is believed that effective negotiators are those persons who confess their craving for the best results for themselves but, in fact, this discourteous behavior is used strategically to intimidate the weaker opponents. In his study, many respondents discourage this type of competitive bargaining and promote the collaboration between parties. They are also aware of the difficulty a competitive bargainer encounters when focusing on achieving his objectives. It has been shown throughout the years that this competitive behavior is much more present in men’s ways of acting, women adopting a simpler style based on respect and collaboration.

While psychologists have identified human temperament as being the predominant factor in human behavior and a reason for which they act in a certain manner in a negotiation, many experts in the negotiation field classify negotiators as being competitive or collaborative. In practice there is a range of styles, based on the degree to which persons think first about themselves or about the other person involved in the process (see Figure 1.1).

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Figure 1.2.3 The spectrum of negotiation style (Adler, Ermhorst, 2005, p.114)

In accordance with the figure above, there it can be a balance between concession and competition. Negotiation styles are rarely pure win-win or win-lose, and many negotiators exhibit a combination of these approaches. The image depicts the range of negotiating styles, taking into account the two types of consideration: self consideration and consideration for others.

Consideration for self depicts individuals who prioritize their needs as being more important than those of the other party and in this case the end justifies the means, while the concept of consideration for others depicts individuals who value the foundation of a future relationship with the other party. However, excessive consideration for both yourself and others has disadvantages, such as manipulation or the creation of relentless concessions in which case the main disadvantage is illustrated by losing the negotiation process. In order to manage the result to which a negotiation process is heading to, negotiation skills are required and precisely these skills support the creation of a negotiation style.

Negotiating is a skill that everyone can use, regardless of whether or not how much information a person has on this area. At the end of the day, an individual’s entire life is based on negotiation, whether he negotiates with a vendor at the market or an important contract with an international company. The conclusion is that negotiation is about “using knowledge to get what you want.” (Shapiro, Jankowski, 2001, p. 19).

One of the challenges, though, is that not everyone negotiates in the same way. Each person is characterized by a personal negotiating style that influences how he or she approaches and engages in the process. By being aware of their negotiating style, individuals will be in a better position to acquire good negotiating skills. Below, there are presented a few characteristics of each negotiation style:

- The competing style – It is the approach according to which the entire process is treated as a rivalry in which the substance of what is being traded is the only real concern and the dealings are done in a tough way.

A competitive individual is handling a negotiation in a forceful and confrontational way, focusing on seeking to get what he wants and needs, without taking into consideration the other parties’ opinions. This approach differentiates from the other techniques through manipulation, argumentation, pressure, intimidation and persuasion, all these coming from the part of the person described by this style. Sometimes, if this person has the advantage of possessing a privileged position on the hierarchical scale, it can include claiming superiority and exercising authority to win his proposed objective.

When there is an emphasis on the outcome of the negotiation and not on expressing the willingness of a long term relationship with the other party, a competitive behavior arises. In this case, the party driven by this kind of conduct carries out a hard bargain, his interests prevailing in front of the other party. He is engaged in a win-lose competition, the total victory being his goal. His strength is that he is a tough battler, for whom tools like threats, bluffs, surprises, deceit, and trickery represent a natural way of conducting the process against his adversaries (or opponents).

For a competitive negotiator, business is business and power and control represent everything. The parties’ interests cannot be merged and there can be only one winner. Even though, it will represent a wise thing for him to show some goodwill in helping his counterpart enjoy a victory too, he does not choose this path. By letting the other part in disadvantage, it reinforces in his mind the idea of winning.

- The avoiding style - When there is little interest in forging the best deal and keeping and developing business relationships, an avoiding behavior pattern is produced. In most situations, the avoiding style of handling a negotiation is contrary to the competing one. Instead of controlling and dealing the process with force and power, the concerned person retreats and withdraws. This type of individual is dominated by the lack of concern and feelings of powerlessness.

This style is a form of ignoring the entire dispute. The avoider employs tactics to sidestep or postpone an issue or withdraw altogether from what he perceives a threatening situation. He is reluctant in showing any sign of affirmation, nor he cooperates or engages in the negotiation for any reason.

Feelings of powerlessness, lack of concern in the outcome, admission of defeat, surrender, and accepting whatever the other party is willing to concede become part of the avoider’s attitude.

Usually, an avoiding negotiator will start the negotiation by prioritizing the points to be discussed and he will start by dealing with his essential issues. In the case in which he is litigating multiple related actions, the avoider’s decision will be to take the factors step by step, in order not to lose focus on the negotiated issue and to avoid confrontational situations.

In general, the persons dominated by a withdrawal behavior keep a low profile and they are indifferent and resigned. Realistically, they take in a negotiation only whatever the other party is willing to concede, the results being beyond their influence. Key actions that sent to this style are represented by verbs like: forgo, waive, sacrifice, relinquish, surrender, yield and cede.

- The compromising style - The compromising style represents the middle way in a negotiation process. When there is a moderate degree of concern coming from both parties taking part in the procedure, generally the effect of this behavior conducts to a compromise.

In the cases where a compromising behavior pattern is produced, the emphasis is on keeping a productive long term relationship with the other party. According to this idea, both participants will cooperate with the purpose of finding a middle ground, the person most interested in doing the deal giving to the other person what he wants in order to reach an agreement and preserve the relationship. The efficient management of the conflict is valued over synergistic problem solving.

Compromisers look for an expedient, partially satisfactory middle ground. Their primary interest is haste and “rough justice.” Thus, compromisers are willing to trade concessions, sometimes despite the merits, simply to make a deal.

The persons adopting a compromising style usually strive for a logical end result from the negotiation. However, this does not generate the same optimum settlement that can be attained as in the situation in which a high degree of concern is proved for both dimensions: output and concern over the present and future relation with the other party.

The major characteristics of individuals dominated by this style are related to compromising; meeting the other party halfway; find a quick, easy solution they can both agree on; looking for trade-offs; splitting the remnants, and other halfway measures.

- The collaborating style - In general terms, collaboration represents a cooperative arrangement in which the involved parties perform jointly some actions to reach a well-defined target. The collaborative strategy usually takes the negotiation to favorable results for those implicated in the procedure, the outcome being a win-win situation, seeking to create value for both sides.

The collaborative business negotiators believe that not only the outcome of the “deal” is important, but building and maintaining a long-term business relationship are also critical. They make use of many different components of value and risk allocation, all of which can be traded against one another for an ultimately satisfactory outcome.

Flexibility and creativity in finding mutually agreeable solutions are the key strengths of this style. A collaborative person is dominated by a problem-solving behavior, which influences the individual in exploring mutual interests based on objective criteria and working for common benefits. No tricks are used in this type of negotiation, the involved parties resuming to principles and integrative solutions, not on putting pressure to obtain the desired result.

The collaborative negotiators or the win-win negotiators are those persons who communicate openly, identify interests and design options that allow them to create value for all the involved parties.

While most persons believe that the collaborating style is the only one needed to lead to a favorable result, researchers destroy this myth saying that while collaboration represents the ideal, there are also other approaches to reach the proposed result.

- The accommodating style – This approach stands for the tactics adopted in a negotiation to go along with the other party and to do what they want. This style presumes that the accommodating negotiator will place on a second place his interests and concerns. For him, working on the best possible deal is not a top priority and this is why minimal effort coming from his part will be transmitted in this aspect. His concentration is on creating a friendly relationship, which in a long run will induce some advantages for his business.

Being characterized by an accommodating behavior facilitates the way in which the person deals with the other party’s interests. This tactic can prove to be successful in time, helping the negotiator gain support in another negotiation. Sustaining the same idea related to future benefits, this style can also be effective for a person having a low-status position inside a company, since being a team player and a cooperative person represent qualities that can facilitate the person’s way in climbing the ladder.

Another strong point of this approach can be used by a negotiator to get away from a divergence. An example to sustain this can be a situation in which a person has done something wrong and he wants to get the matter over in a quickly and less costly way or a situation in which the person desires to gain some goodwill and other benefits through a quick resolution.

The main attributes of this pattern gather the incentives to promote and encourage harmony, evasion of substantive differences, surrender to preserve the future relationship, and setting the existing interpersonal bonds above the fairness of the end result. The most important objective in this case is avoiding as much as possible the creation of an unpleasant confrontation.

Trusting others without reservation is also an attribute of the accommodating style and it can be considered a disadvantage. Taking everything for granted, without having solid evidences, is not a reliant principle in business. Nevertheless, by guiding after this principle and by offering an agreeable company, the accommodating negotiators inspire honesty and seriousness.

By maintaining a peaceful and a friendly environment, the other participants in the negotiation are encouraged to be more receptive when the accommodator discloses its bottom line to make them be aware of what he/she is after.

After making a short introduction on each one of the negotiating styles, it must be understood the fact that men and women adopt different bargaining approaches depending on the negotiated situation and on the other party. Some of this differences consist in the fact that women tend to concede more than men and to accept less. Also men become more competitive when in the negotiation table is involved a woman. It is all about their ego which makes them play hardball, become more aggressive and to concede less than in the case they were negotiation against another man. In this situation, they exhibit a competitive style.

On the other side, women tend to value the personal relationships, as well as long-term business relations, more than man and more they do a win. There is a certain feminine characteristic in their behaviors that makes them want to be perceived as good or nice. Comparative to men’s negotiating style, women lean toward a combination of collaborative-compromising appraches, which has been prooved to be the essential key to a successful outcome.



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Title: Gender differences in negotiations