When it comes to negotiation styles, are there gender-based differences in the approaches taken? This was the first question posed to more than 60 attendees at the second global women litigators’ breakfast held today at the International Bar Association conference in Sydney.
For the majority, the initial response was that different approaches were dependant on the background and personality of the individual, rather than their gender. Although, drilling down into the issue, it became clearer that there were differences, good and bad, which appeared to be attributable to gender.
One female European delegate recounted an experience where, despite having met three times, the male counsel in the negotiation forgot her name on purpose and then looked her up and down, presumably to throw her off her guard. In such situations, regardless of gender, it was agreed it is best to keep emotion hidden, concentrate on the facts and not lower yourself to match any bad or aggressive behaviour.
The “power of least interest” was also a good tool, suggested one attendee. Sitting and pretending to have a lack of interest in the negotiation, while quietly observing and gathering information, could be an effective tactic.
On the flipside, playing the female card could be used to gain advantage. Being charming can often lead to better outcomes whether you are a man or a woman, said one panellist.
The starting position is often different for a woman. They may have had to fight differently to be in the role they are in, and they may continue to feel like they have to justify their place at the table.
That said, many women found it was often “easier” to negotiate with men than with women, the latter of whom can be tougher – potentially because they have indeed fought harder to be there. ‘Queen bee’ syndrome was also mentioned, as was women being harder than they should be on matters that are just not that important.
Speaking to CDR, Jane Colston, a partner at Brown Rudnick in London, and a member of the IBA litigation committee, says: “It has been said ‘all generalisations are false including this one’. With that in mind, many who attended [today] thought women tended to want to find out about the person they were negotiating against.”
Further, women often spent more time assessing their opponent’s negotiating style rather than fighting in a vacuum and having one style to fit all.
“For those whose negotiating style was to seek out conflict and play act, for example, the strategies discussed that worked included the power of silence and the power of time out/patience. Often negotiating needs to be a long game.”
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