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Can Women Be Great Negotiators?

As long as they keep their emotions under control

women negotiateAre women at a disadvantage in negotiation? Yes, suggest a number of books and articles. No, I reply without hesitation. Anyone who doubts women’s negotiating skills couldn’t have worked with well-trained negotiators in the business world, because such real-world experience would have set to rest all ideas about disadvantage. If anything, women can have an edge at the bargaining table. If you ask “can women be great negotiators?” the answer is yes.

For more than two decades I’ve been a negotiation coach for self-employed individuals, including many salespeople, small businesses of all sorts, and Fortune 500 corporations, including Motorola, IBM, Merril Lynch, Prudential Insurance, and Texas Instruments. I’ve coached literally thousands of men and women in a wide range of negotiations-everything from cold-calling (excellent training for a young negotiator, by the way; really thickens the skin) to complex multinational deals worth tens of millions of dollars and requiring 18 months of hard, disciplined work. I can tell you that the women I’ve worked with can and do master the Camp system and negotiate just as well as the men do. It’s that simple.

The idea that women have special problems in negotiation comes from the view that negotiation is an emotional cauldron. If this is the case, and if women are from Venus while men are from Mars, it necessarily follows that poor, fragile women are operating at a handicap. They’re not tough enough-or they try to be too tough, because they’re not really tough. They wilt under the pressure. They’re not comfortable in the mano-a-mano world of negotiation. Their instinct for nurturing is too powerful to overcome. They try too hard to impress men. And so on and so forth. Bottom line: they’re on the wrong planet; they’re too emotional.

The truth, however, is that emotion can overwhelm women and men in any negotiation. In win-win negotiations, in fact, they almost always do. The win-win books would never admit this, of course, but they can’t get around the fact that the invitation to compromise that lurks just beneath the surface of this paradigm is really just an invitation to let emotions-all kinds of emotions-take over: the hope that you’re going to save your company; the fear that you’re going to ruin your company; the temptation to make a deal, any deal, and worry about the consequences later.

Is that “Taps” I hear playing in the background? Doesn’t everyone in business know that Fortune 500 negotiators use strategies expressly designed to take advantage of weak win-win negotiators? No, a surprising number of people don’t know this-until it’s too late. This is why win-win leads to bad decisions and bad deals, time after time after time. This is why win-win is, all too often, win-lose.

My work as a coach is a direct rebuttal of the win-win paradigm and all its kind. It’s also a direct rebuttal of the idea that women don’t make good negotiators.

While win-win is emotion-based, the Camp system is decision-based. With good decision-making skills, we have the best chance of maintaining control of the situation and achieving the most beneficial possible outcome. We often have no control over our emotions, but we can always control our actions-our decisions. Good, disciplined negotiation is all about making good, disciplined decisions. That’s it. Everything I do with my clients, everything I teach in my seminars, is in the service of this very attainable goal.

So I ask you: Can women make good decisions?

Put this way, the ridiculousness of the idea that women can’t be good negotiators is exposed for what it is, a canard based on an incorrect assumption about the nature of negotiation.

I suggested in the first paragraph that women can actually have an advantage negotiating. How is this? Numerous ways, but in this limited space I’ll focus on just one.

A key idea of my system is the danger of neediness in a negotiation. It leads to more bad decisions than any other emotion. I work very hard with my clients to help them recognize the many, many forms in which neediness expresses itself and the always negative impact it has on decisions. My clients only want to sign a deal; they never, ever need to sign a deal.

When I first introduce this idea, they think I must be exaggerating, but if I took a poll and asked all of my clients over the years to name the one idea of the Camp system that had the most immediate beneficial impact on their negotiating work, I think a significant plurality, maybe even a majority, would identity this simple warning about neediness.

Skillful negotiators are never needy, and they’re poised at all times to recognize the neediness of the negotiators on the other side of the table. A well-trained woman, specifically, will often encounter and take flagrant advantage of the neediness of the alpha male who has to play the tough guy, the smart guy, the experienced veteran who wants her to know a thing or two-or just the opposite kind of neediness, that of the liberated male who’s overly solicitous and cooperative because he needs to prove that he’s no chauvinist pig.

For a woman whose own emotions are under careful control, taking advantage of this kind of neediness is almost child’s play, as I’ve seen over and over and over again: the know-it-all who lets slip the vital fact about his team’s negotiating position that he’s hid for months from others on her team; the super-nice guy who actually wants her to know this vital fact about his team’s negotiating position, he’s such a super-nice guy; the chauvinist pig whose barely concealed disdain leads him to lower his own guard when she offers an apparently innocuous change to a tentative agreement.

Women are at a disadvantage as negotiators? Some disadvantage. As a coach, I’ll take it every time

About Jim Camp

Jim Camp is president of Coach 2100, one of the leading negotiation training and management firms in the world. He offers self-paced online tutorials to help recent college grads and others prepare for job interviews and learn how to get the best deal for themselves in any negotiation.


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