What's Sex Got to Do With it: Questioning Research on Gender & Negotiation
37 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 7, 2019
Negotiation scholars and teachers often talk about negotiation skills through the metaphor of tools in the toolbox. This article focuses on the fact that negotiation scholarship primarily studies the hammer, the skill of assertiveness in negotiation. In fact, the majority of empirical negotiation studies take this even further—studying only the hammer and imagining only a single opportunity to hit the nail on the head. Based on those studies, we make conclusions that if one chooses not to use the hammer at all or does not hold it as well as another, one is not a good builder. And negotiation scholars’ advice is also too often focused only on this hammer—how to swing it harder, how to position your hands, the angle of the swing, and so forth. We see this as well in the study of gender differences in negotiation where the vast majority of articles examining gender and negotiation focus on assertiveness—the hammer—and how women need to pick it up, swing harder, or hold it differently. Women’s supposed lack of assertiveness has been used to explain the pay gap between the salaries of women and men along with a whole host of other inequities. This story falls short primarily because our research falls short. And when our research falls short—when we are only researching and emphasizing a part of the skills that are needed to be effective—this does a disservice to all negotiators.
First, researchers focus on assertiveness, a typically masculine trait, and only one of several important negotiation skills. Therefore, we assume that both men and women need only to master that skill to the detriment of the mastery of any other negotiation skills. Second, assertiveness has become the only regularly tested negotiation skill as it is easily quantified. By failing to study the impact of any other skills—including skills that women might be better at than men—the practice to theory to practice cycle is hijacked by this narrow focus. Third, we tend to study negotiation in one-shot interactions with distributive outcomes. Far less often do we study the possibility of integrative outcomes. Even when we set up studies that focus on repeated interactions, they are often limited to prisoner’s dilemma or dictator game scenarios—highly stylized and unrealistic structures. What this means is that while women are not recognized for the skills at which they might be inherently better, it also means that we are failing men by not highlighting opportunities for growth and improvement.
This article attempts to fill in the picture of the skills necessary for effective negotiation by examining the existing negotiation and gender literature discussing traits and skills related to negotiation and the gender literature of those traits outside of the negotiation context. Importantly, this article outlines what we know—and what is still missing—in terms of research on negotiation skills and research on gender differences in these skills. Understanding this gap is the first step toward recognizing what we should be studying and testing in the future.
This article will examine five negotiation skills—social intuition, empathy, ethicality, flexibility, and assertiveness—each of which has been shown to make negotiators more effective and add importantly to each negotiator’s toolbox. Each section will outline how the skill is generally defined in negotiation literature, what gender differences exist or research has been done under each category, and then where future research might be needed. Particularly, this article will note how much more research is needed in all of these other skills to help negotiators learn the specific behaviors that can increase effectiveness. Finally, the article will circle back to assess what we have learned about using a gender lens to study negotiation and the importance of broadening the skill base for all negotiators.
Keywords: negotiation, gender, skills, social intuition, empathy, ethicality, flexibility, assertiveness
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