Thursday, 16 January 1986

Genders at the Negotiation Table (2009)

OBHR 222 - Business Negotiation and Conflict Management

Done by:
Yong Jin Chuan Jose
Kang Hui Pei Athena
Loon Hua Tai Alex
Hong Shuling Dorothy
Gabrielle Anoinette D'avezac Moran


Every society has its own view of gender and stereotypes which lead members of each society to form expectations of gender behaviour. The negotiation table represents one such example of a social situation where gender differences, expectations and stereotypes occur and interact. Men and women are thought to negotiate in different ways. This is both a consequence of gender differences and stereotypes, and what perpetuates differences and stereotypes further.

For the purposes of our discussion, gender differences refer to the cultural and psychological markers of the sexes, which should be distinguished from the different biological categories of males and females. The cultural and psychological markers of gender allow us to focus on the social aspects of gender through which stereotypes can be analysed. Gender markers vary across cultures and societies, and societies shape gender roles and identities through many dimensions which this paper will discuss, as gender roles operate as socially shared expectations of appropriate behaviour for men and women. Stereotypes are thus an aspect of prescriptive norms, consensual beliefs about how members of a group or a society ought to be (Cialdini & Trost, 1998).

How then do stereotypes originate and perpetuate themselves, and what can we do about them? As gender role stereotypes functionally operate as socially shared expectations of appropriate behaviour for men and women (Eagly, 1987), these stereotypes are shaped by the twin processes of both a bottom-up (originating from the individual) and top-down (culture and society’s pressures on the individual) manner. We will also observe later that these processes interact and complement one another to propagate gender stereotypes. While this vicious cycle is autocatalytic by nature, there are means to mitigate the undesirable outcomes, such as unfair results in favour of men over women not based on merit but prejudices, simply by eliminating sexual markers that perpetuate stereotypes.

The Bottom-Up Process: Stereotypes from the Individual

The bottom-up process examines how the sexes differ via psychological and biological factors which can affect negotiation performances between men and women (Kray & Thompson, 2005). This process through which stereotypes exist can be characterized by two different theories, the ‘socialization theory’ and the ‘self-construal theory’. The difference between these theories is that socialization looks at abilities and behaviours while self-construals focus on how men and women see themselves in terms of self-concepts.

Studies by Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) to determine the effects of socialization broadly identify that men are more aggressive, less verbal and more quantitative and visual-spatial than women. A developmental perspective identifies the importance of childhood events as creating fundamental differences between males and females (Maccoby, 1988). Boys and girls go through different socialization processes during childhood. Seemingly insignificant actions, like telling boys not to cry or giving girls dolls to play with, can shape significant psychological differences between men and women. It was observed that little boys at play were keener to fight and develop a liking for guns and cars, signalling a greater preference for competition. Little girls were calmer and preferred cooking toys and dolls, indicating greater appreciation for care and nurture. This is echoed in the research conducted by Buss (1995), where men and women face different and naturally-occurring adaptive challenges which are functional in ensuring that specifically different gender personality traits develop. Another possible root cause of core gender differences include the possibly genetic biases that boys and girls are naturally endowed with at birth (Money & Ehrhardt, 1972).

Applied to negotiations, research suggests that men should be better at claiming value due to their aggressive nature and quantitative prowess. The superior verbal skills of women may aid in the ability to understand the interests of one’s negotiating partner and lead to greater alignment of interests, ultimately leading to more integrative negotiations (Kray & Thompson, 2005).

Gender differences and varied behavioural outcomes are also developed through self-construals, which refers to how men and women see themselves through their self-concepts. Under this body of literature, Bem (1981) proposed that children learn from a young age what it means to be men or women, forming gender schemas that become the lenses through which they view and comprehend their world. Accordingly, children adjust their behaviours to fit in with the gender norms of their culture. This predisposes individuals to construct a self-identity that is consistent with their understanding of reality. Eventually, women see themselves as relationship-oriented whereas men see themselves as independent from others (Cross & Madsen, 1997). This is further consistent with the view that women are more collectivistic while men are more individualistic in nature.

When applied to negotiations, women view negotiations as including a relationship component (Gelfand, Smith-Major, Raver & Nishii, 2004; Kolb & Coolidge, 1991). Negotiators concerned about relationships adopt more flexible and accommodating approaches (Greenhalgh & Gilkey, 1993) and thus end up being in a position that is more easily exploitable by a more competitively-oriented partner. Furthermore, women are likely to have lower self-confidence than men when they perceive negotiations as a masculine task (Beyer, 1990; Lenney, 1977).

Socialization and self-construal theories create cognitive biases that underlie the stereotypes men and women have of one another and consequently put females at a disadvantage in negotiations. Stereotypical male attributes include being strong, dominant, assertive and rational, while stereotypical female attributes include being weak, submissive, accommodating and emotional. These attributes, unfortunately for females, fall nicely in place for men as effective negotiators and women as ineffective negotiators.

These stereotypes are accompanied by expectations that others have based on gender alone. Regardless of whether men and women differ fundamentally, their negotiating partners hold different expectations about men and women that can lead them to be treated differently. This in turn, affects negotiation processes and outcomes, ultimately resulting in the formation of ‘expectancies’.

Olson, Roese and Zanna (1996) define expectancies as beliefs about a future state of affairs. Expectancies are functional and are hence formed because people want the world to be predictable and controllable. When a subjective expectancy is confirmed through experience, it is positive reinforcement for that expectancy to exist such that we believe it can be universally applied to other situations (Mandler, 1975). This expectancy-consistent behaviour is likely to result in the formation of heuristics, which are similar to formulas which people develop in an attempt to make quicker judgments of reality (Olson, et al., 1996). As we explore the top-down process of stereotype reinforcement due to culture and society later, the persistence of expectancies can be further understood. Negotiating performance and outcomes that appear congruent with stereotypes thus occur as the stereotypes that men and women hold of each other are complementary and reinforcing.

Studies found that women who were self-promoting created poorer impressions in others (Rudman, 1998), women who were highly modest in responding to compliments were judged more positively (Wosinka, Dabul, Whetstone-Dion & Cialdini, 1996), and women who were observed to be successful in stereotypically masculine tasks were more personally derogated than similarly successful men. Relevant to negotiations, these negative evaluations had direct effects on subsequent resource allocation decisions (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs & Tamkins, 2004). As the studies show, different normative expectations exist for men and women and expectancy-inconsistent behaviours will have consequences for the impressions that are formed of them and the standards applied to them at the negotiation table (Kray & Thompson, 2005).

Gender stereotypes are thus strengthened due to these cognitive biases, which have less of a basis on individual merit than the tendency for self-fulfilling prophecies to propagate them. This will be further explored later when discussing communication styles between genders. These inherent expectancies also result in stereotype threats (Steele, 1997), whereby the fear of confirming a negative stereotype leads to impaired performance. By virtue of the fact that negotiation is often stereotypically perceived as a male domain, the anxiety to perform well can lead to sub-optimal negotiation performance against women.

Communication in Negotiations Shaped by Gender Stereotypes

Gender stereotypes evidently shape communication styles of men and women. Their communication methods (verbal and non-verbal) are highly associated with gender-stereotypical traits and this has implications for negotiations between different genders. For instance, males often progress from a decision to discussion, which is associated with their task and outcome-oriented nature. Women, on the other hand being more relationship focused, spend more time in discussions before arriving at a final decision. In the process of negotiation, males can also be overly focused on their positions due to their concern for personal status, whereas women will spend more time conversing to enhance connections with negotiations’ parties (Tannen, 2004). Studies have further shown that non-verbal communication, which includes body language, influences 55% of the communication process. Non-verbal communication at the negotiation table can be observed as a behavioural manifestation and reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

Negotiations between the opposite genders often risk mutual misinterpretations – each gender displays similar actions with different meanings intended and, more often than not, such actions are further assumed and interpreted differently. In negotiation, females often nod heads to show empathy and understanding. Male negotiators, pre-dominantly task-oriented, incorrectly interpret it in relation to negotiation outcomes – their female counter-party is agreeing with their proposal.

The female interest in social connection is equivalent to the male concern for status. Females, being relationship-oriented, maintain constant eye contact with their negotiating partners to establish connections. Men, on the contrary, do not appreciate such frequent eye contact and interpret it as an attempt to threaten individual status and may jump at retaliation. Thus, males will usually approach their negotiating partners at an angle, so as not to appear too confrontational and personal. Females do not welcome such a gesture at the negotiation table and misinterpret such physical approach as sneaky and associated with an unwillingness to maintain an honest negotiation process.

Men maintain a neutral body posture to communicate that they are listening attentively. Women misinterpret this as a lack of comprehension or boredom and respond by repeating what they say, which leads men to suspect insecurity. Such perception places females at a disadvantage, as insecurity is associated with an ineffective negotiator. Male negotiators may react exploitatively and appear more assertive during the negotiation process. The outcome will be one of further reinforcement and confirmation of gender stereotypes.

Communication styles conforming to gender stereotypes have the power of framing the negotiation in such a way that strengthens stereotypes and steers outcomes in favour of male negotiators. The dynamics are complicated especially when these behaviours are further misinterpreted according to a stereotypical mental framework, and they lay the foundations for self-fulfilling prophecies that further propagate stereotypes.

Evidence Studies: Poorer Negotiation Outcomes for Women

As a reflection of the detrimental effects brought by gender stereotypes on women, it was found that car dealerships offered significantly lower prices to men than women (Ayres, 1991). Longitudinal analyses of attorneys’ salaries 15 years after graduation showed that men earn more than women and this wage gap emerged despite the fact that these men and women graduated from the same varsity with identical socioeconomic profiles (Wood, Corcoran & Courant, 1993).

The Top-down Process: Stereotypes Brought on by Cultural and Societal Pressures

Having considered the bottom-up processes coming from individuals that explain the existence of gender stereotypes, we can now explore the cultural and societal factors that structurally produce and sustain stereotypes, which further reinforce the power and influence gender stereotypes have particularly on negotiations.

Social role theory states that men and women generally behave according to the various stereotypes given to them by the people around them and are already assigned depicted roles the moment they integrate into society (Vogel, Wester, Heesacker & Madon, 2003). Women are seen as housewives and are expected to be more nurturing. Men are presumed to be breadwinners for the family, leading to expectations of strength and competitiveness. When people defer from the roles given to them by society, negative social impressions of them will generally be formed. For example, if a woman is overly assertive, she may be seen as pushy and labelled derogatorily. This ties in closely with the concept of expectancies discussed earlier, as these expectancies are developed in relation to the overarching social pressures caused by culture and society.

Both social role theory as well as the cultural upbringing of girls who have been taught from young about their specific roles to play in society, contribute to why women are more averse to negotiating than men. They perceive themselves as how society sees them and thus do not want or see the need to negotiate. In fact, even when women do negotiate, they have lower expectations of themselves due to self-perceptions caused by society and therefore do not ask for more, resulting in women getting the shorter end of the stick in negotiated outcomes. This can be seen as when women negotiate on behalf of others, such as when they act as agents for a company, they do just as well as their male counterparts statistically. However, when it comes to negotiating for their own self interests, for example when negotiating for their own salary or buying a car, women get sub-optimal results due to lowered self-expectations displayed in the negotiation.

Babcock and Laschever (2003) provide empirical evidence of why women shy away from negotiating and how poorly they negotiate when they do. Men negotiate about four times as much as women and as many as 20% of women avoiding negotiation altogether, even when they see the need to negotiate arising in the situation. A severe consequence for females is that a woman can stand to lose more than $500,000 by the time she is 60 just because she did not negotiate her salary.

As the study was done in the U.S. where gender inequality is generally lower, we can infer that the situation in countries such as in the region of the Middle East, where traditional notions of hierarchy and social roles are strongly espoused, will be magnified and result in more severe consequences. Accordingly, it can be extrapolated that with a greater emphasis on egalitarian and meritocratic values, a society will develop a structure that reinforces gender stereotypes to a smaller extent, in turn leading to better negotiated outcomes for women.

Evidence Studies: Gender Differences Across Cultures

Our discussion is supported by a study by Salacuse (1998) which observed gender differences between 310 individuals across cultures. It was found that 80% of women in the U.S. adopted a more integrative negotiation style as compared to a distributive one. However, in Spain, the women showed a more even spread of distributive and integrative negotiation styles. When it came to negotiation goals, it was observed that 71% of women in the U.S. saw relationships as the primary goal of negotiations. The opposite was observed for most European women who saw the actual negotiation outcome as their main goal. We may attribute this to the magnitude of gender differences which are less prominent in European countries as compared to the U.S..


Gender stereotypes at the negotiation table can strongly influence behaviour and place women negotiators at an unfair disadvantage. It is impossible to eradicate completely because stereotypes are deeply-rooted in people’s mindsets. The first, and perhaps most important, way to manage stereotypes is . A study by Kray, Thompson and Galinsky (2001) showed that by explaining to women before a negotiation that male negotiation skills would lead to better results, they outperformed men in mixed-gender negotiations. Likewise, when female stereotypes were activated, male and female negotiators achieved more integrative incomes.

From here on, there are three categories of interventions to overcome problems in gender stereotypes, namely situational interventions, cognitive interventions and motivational interventions. In situational interventions, power and leverage is employed in order to equalize the effects of stereotypes in negotiation. Men and women who are endowed with the same level of power tend to use benefit from it equally. The negative effects of gender differences can be overcome by diluting structural imbalances of power in negotiation situations. Having a good knowledge of the situation, the other party’s interests, supporting one’s position with valid arguments and improving the quality of alternatives (BATNA) can help a negotiator enhance his or her negotiating power. A powerful mind-set relates to cognitive interventions, which is about being aware of the role of power in the situation and its relation to tactics and outcomes. Having a powerful frame of mind can lead to better outcomes for female negotiators. This can be achieved by focusing on the common goals and interests of the negotiating parties and feeling in control during the negotiation. Studies discussed in this paper have shown that women who adopt a male negotiation style are labelled negatively. Women tend to struggle to get equal outcomes in negotiations and often end up accepting poorer outcomes than their male counterparts. Motivational intervention involves emphasizing on the mutual dependency of both parties in the negotiation relationship. This means the negotiation should be framed to be solved as a shared problem together, rather than one that centers on self-promotion.

The impact of gender stereotypes can also be diminished through more objective means that minimize stereotype-activating thought, such as computerized or online negotiations. These virtual negotiations minimize the presence of contextual cues, such as the communication styles discussed earlier, which can lead to the automatic activation and reinforcement of gender stereotypes. Environmental settings should be similar for both parties to maintain some sense of equality. In certain societies, a powerful hierarchical structure is absent and women and men are more on par. Women in these egalitarian societies can make use of self perception as powerful tool to overcome stereotype effects and achieve power and better outcomes in negotiations. At the same time, ensuring that women have equal opportunities to avenues such as education can also create social norms that reward unbiased attitudes and outcomes based on merit rather than biases, such that a gender discriminating structure is deemed unfashionable.


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