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Is There a Women's Way to Negotiate?

In part 1 of a 2-part series, an expert woman negotiator shares her insights on how women negotiate differently than men.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Years ago, a well-known research study by Jean Piaget observed young boys and girls at play. The study concluded that the boys were more concerned about the rules of the game than the girls were. The boys seemed quite adept at negotiating the rules before the game started; the girls were more concerned about relationships, making sure everyone was included.

Is it possible that this early childhood behavior continues into adulthood, where so many women in the marketplace are negotiating major contracts? Do women lack some inherent negotiating trait, or is it a simple a lack of experience that causes some to reduce their prices before doing even a few rounds of negotiations? These questions, as well as knowing when and how to start the negotiation, plague many entrepreneurs.

Deanna Brown, counsel to Hallstrom, Klein & Ward LLP and senior corporate counsel for Skyworks Solutions, has negotiated major contracts both for and against Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia. She shared her insights on the skill and pitfalls of negotiations, as well as the unique issues women deal with during the negotiating process. What are the main differences between men and women's negotiating styles? Also, is it different when women are negotiating with other women or with men?
Deanna Brown:
I've negotiated both with and against women and men who've adopted a variety of negotiation styles, so I don't feel there's a hard and fast rule about how either gender negotiates. However, some studies have indicated the following:

  1. Women are often more attentive to the overall relationship of the parties than the issues being negotiated. Studies show that women tend to focus more on the relationship of the parties involved in a negotiation, while men may focus only on the resolution of a particular set of issues. The relationship of the parties is often just as important--if not more important--than finalizing the deal, especially if the parties will be working together on a project after the contract or deal is finalized.
    In some cases, however, a woman with this focus may need to adjust her negotiation style if the outcome of the negotiation is more important than the parties' relationship.
  2. Women are often more attentive to nonverbal communication signals. Women typically have stronger people-reading skills than their male counterparts. Attention to body language and other nonverbal cues can be key in negotiations, especially when determining the other party's key concerns.
  3. Women are perceived negatively if they adopt the aggressive tactics employed by some male negotiators. Men may expect women to be "ladylike" in negotiations and avoid aggressive behavior, such as speaking in a loud voice or using foul language.

What's the No. 1 curveball you've seen when negotiating large contracts that women need to be made aware of?
Some large contracts can take many months to negotiate, so it's likely that some of the players will change during the course of the negotiation. Very often, the new attorney, sales representative or business consultant will want to revisit issues that previously had been resolved. I try to address this issue by thoroughly documenting my discussions with the other party.

For example, if the parties reach agreement on the limitation of liability for the contract, I send a follow up e-mail message to both parties that documents the agreement reached. If the issue arises again, I then have a record I can share with both parties that describes the prior agreement. Sometimes all it takes is making the new team member aware of the history of the negotiations and prior agreements to avoid having to start from scratch.

Look for a continuation of this topic next month, as Deanna Brown continues her exploration of women and negotiations.

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