Negotiating Tactics: Men vs. Women

by admin 18. March 2014 12:15

BY LESLEE COHEN

Last week I joined a talented and knowledgeable group of women on a panel at a program entitled “Negotiating Skills for Women.” During the program we addressed topics such as how to prepare for negotiation sessions, whether or not to set ground rules for negotiations, how to identify the issues that are most important to the opposing party and whether to be adversarial or collaborative. At the end of the program, one of the women (let’s call her Sheila for purposes of this post) stood up and said “why do we even have to engage in a program like this and think about how men perceive us and how to alter our negotiation tactics in response to such perceptions?” The program ended before I could properly respond, so I’d like to do that here. 

When I was asked to sit on the panel and the topic was presented to me, my initial reaction was similar to the question Sheila raised....“why is there an event geared toward how women should negotiate?” Don’t get me wrong—negotiation is an art and a difficult one at that and programs that advise people with respect to useful negotiation skills are often of great value. However, I am of the opinion that women should not negotiate any differently than men do. In making her comment at the close of our event, Sheila was responding directly to my description of a recent negotiating session I faced during which the lawyer advising the company my client was investing in chose to bully me. This (male) lawyer was incredibly pedantic, seeming to believe for some reason that he needed to teach me the law in this area. I told the audience that my response had  been to calmly explain (although my fists were clenched under my desk, just wishing I could throw an actual punch) that I had been a securities lawyer for over 23 years and was quite well acquainted with the governing law and common practices so as not to need his help. Sheila was questioning whether a man in my position would have felt the need to lay his credentials on the table and prove himself a worthy opponent as I did as a woman. I could be mistaken, but since my encounter with this male attorney, I have heard countless stories from both men and women leading me to believe that he treats everyone as if they have something to learn from him and that my experience was not unique. Accordingly, I would have advised a man in my position to have taken the same tact and to calmly set forth his particular credentials followed by his assurances that he understood the issues and needed no further lessons.

In the beginning of our negotiating program, the panel members were asked why women tend not to negotiate in situations where they are not “told” straight out that they could or should do so (i.e. when they are presented with a salary offer). This was a softball question for me. As anyone who has read my prior blog posts on this site knows, I am all about women digging deep and finding their self confidence and facing all issues in life, both personally and professionally, from this stance. 

As I always express, this accomplishment took me about 20 years of practicing law, as is often the case for women. The reasoning behind that is simple—as little girls we are socialized not to tout our own accomplishments or to act as leaders (I urge you to read last weekend’s Wall Street Journal article about the use of the word “Bossy” and little girls) and instead to complement each other in order to fit in, whereas little boys spend their childhoods in constant competition. I have listened to my two boys argue that they can run faster than everyone else in the grade and brag about how many baskets they scored in the last game as their friends retort how much faster they run and how many more baskets they scored for over 14 years now. When it comes to negotiation skills, we women have to break through tendency towards insecurity and employ the same skills that men use to negotiate, even if that means pretending to be self-assured and to know what we are talking about. Trust me, men do it all the time!

Leslee Cohen is a principal at Hershman Cohen LLC, a boutique corporate and securities law firm in Chicago that stands out from the crowd, combining big-firm experience with small-firm rates and relationships.  Leslee lives in Deerfield with her husband—the true love of her life—and her two amazing boys, ages 13 and 10.  She was a co-founder of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law and continues to serve on its board of directors, and she is very active in the Small Business Advocacy Council. Her interests outside of work and family include fashion and politics, and her passion is helping younger women rise to the top of their professions.

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Leslee Cohen | Life on the Lattice | Quick Look

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