Impact of Gender in Negotiations
Not so long ago, negotiation was viewed as a rather sordid affair, associated with haggling, dickering, bartering, niggling, swapping, and backroom deal making. It is now recognized as a widespread, serious social activity for solving problems on a grand and modest scale. Interest and research on the topic have exploded as negotiation has permeated and even been equated with most social interactions, (Strauss 1978) including those at the workplace.
A mere twenty-five years ago, academic work on negotiation was primarily confined to economists interested in game theory and its applications, collective bargaining in labor relations, international diplomacy, and the social psychology of the prisoner’s dilemma (Rubin $ Brown 1975).
Scholarly interest has not only grown exponentially, but has extended into fields such as communications, cognitive psychology, law, management, and anthropology, among others.
Despite the apparent diversity in approaches such growth might signal, much of the current work coalesces around basic ideas and themes summarized under the label negotiation analysis (Bazerman & Neale 1991).
Work in this tradition models negotiators as parties with interests (as distinct from positions) that they seek to advance. The goal of negotiators is to improve upon available alternatives to agreement and to do so in ways that push toward efficient, mutually beneficial deals. Much of the current research investigates the various barriers to attaining these outcomes and then offers advice on how negotiators can overcome them.
This article explores the impact of viewing negotiation analysis through the “looking glass of gender” by Peterson and Runyan (1993). There are a number of ways to investigate gender in the context of negotiations. For example, many have looked at the similarities and differences between men and women when they negotiate. This article’s intent is different. Following contemporary feminist critique in organizational theory, this text consider how the emerging framework of negotiation analysis, that is presented as neutral and natural, is not in fact gender-neutral.
This article argues that negotiation analysis is “gendered,” i.e., it is characterized by attributes and behaviors that are more commonly associated with masculinity than femininity. First, attributes associated with masculine worldviews, such as self-interest, competitiveness, and rationality, are more prominent than those associated with feminine perspectives, such as connection, collaboration, and emotionality. Second, the framework fails to take account of how a negotiator’s position in a social hierarchy, a hierarchy that tends to be gendered and characterized by power differentials, might influence expectations about what possibilities exist for her to negotiate successfully. Finally, this framework, with its focus on inputs and outcomes, ignores or hides features of the negotiation process, where issues of gender typically get played out.
This paper begins with an overview of the state of negotiation theorizing and its link to practice and continues with an exploration of the various ways that gender-related issues fit into existing theories. It then uses a gender lens to consider two central tenets of current thinking in negotiation. First, it reviews the model of a negotiator as a person with agency, i.e., acting individually and autonomously. Second, it critiques instrumental perspectives that see strategies and tactics only in relation to outcomes. Looking at these themes through a gender lens shows us how certain features of negotiation practice are highlighted while others are de-emphasized or hidden, and allows us to recapture elements rendered invisible.
The Current Status in the Negotiation Field
One of the most remarkable developments in the social sciences in the last decade is the emergence of negotiation as a field of interdisciplinary research. Although the work is carried out in many disciplines using a number (although a limited number) of different research methods, there is a core set of ideas that mark much of the work. Recent models have been influenced significantly by the work of Howard Raiffa (1982), among others. They embrace the goal of asymmetric prescription/description. This view argues that empirical research (description) can help one party anticipate the likely behavior of the other (asymmetric prescription). Raiffa’s framework provides a critical transition between earlier economic game theory and the current explosion of empirical, interdisciplinary work that Sebenius (1992) calls negotiation analysis to highlight the rigor it seeks. At the same time it recognizes the practical realities of bargaining: “negotiation analysts” seek to “generate prescriptive advice given a (probabilistic) description of how others will behave” (p. 20). While not all the researchers would naturally identify themselves as negotiation analysts, a common set of assumptions underlies their work.
Negotiation analysts typically make a distinction between two types of bargaining. One type, variously described as zero-sum, distributive, or positional negotiations, is contrasted with mutual gains, integrative, or interest-based negotiations. The former, distributive bargaining, is usually characterized by a single issue, such as price or wages. Negotiation then is primarily a process of compromise or splitting the pie. Success goes to the distributive bargainer who starts with high demands, concedes slowly, exaggerates the value of concessions made, minimizes the benefits of the other’s concessions, conceals information, argues forcefully, and can outwit the other person.
When negotiators engage in integrative bargaining, on the other hand, they seek to increase the payoffs to both parties. Starting with interests rather than positions, integrative bargaining involves the open sharing of information to identify interests and needs, the use of creative problem solving techniques to accommodate these interests, and making trades and exchanges based on complementary values and interests (Pruitt 1981). Success in integrative negotiation is a joint activity where both parties can communicate well enough and be creative enough to find exchanges they can make with the goal of agreements that meet the needs of all parties.
The relationship between these two models is the subject of some debate within the field. Some argue that they are totally separate. In a popular vein, Getting to YES by Fisher and Patton, captures the separate model. This article puts emphasis on the criticality of what it calls positional bargaining, or what others might call distributive negotiations. It proposes a number of now-familiar principles that purport to shift negotiations from win-lose or zero-sum to those that are win-win or joint-gain.
The research community generally sees these two models as intertwined in a paradoxical way. Tactics that promote one approach undercut or interfere with the other. To openly communicate one’s interests, for example, in pursuit of mutual gains, can leave one open to exploitation by the distributive bargainer. There is an inescapable tension between the competitive moves for individual gain and the cooperative behaviors necessary for coordinating mutual agreement. This mixed-motive quality of negotiations, called the bargainers dilemma, has been the subject of scholarly inquiry focused on the question of what interferes with achieving integrative or optimal agreements. Other barriers to reaching integrative agreements include negotiators who are overconfident about their positions and abilities to persuade others, value positive outcomes differently from negative ones, devalue concessions from others, and make assumptions that all negotiations are zero-sum and involve splitting the proverbial pie.
The lure of prescription in the field is strong. Consistent with Raiffa’s concept of asymmetric prescription-description, the advice that researchers typically give is asymmetric, i.e., it is offered to an individual negotiator to help in the selection of specific strategies and tactics. Advice covers opening offers and responses, strategic choices about personal negotiating style and stance, methods of creative problem solving, and ways to overcome barriers to mutual gains agreements.
Gender in Negotiations
Gender is a complex topic in negotiations. There are three major approaches used in the field to frame the issues: first, the study of individual differences between men and women based on observation and research; second, comparing “masculine” and “feminine” approaches to negotiation; and third, using a gender-relations perspective that defines gender as a belief system that influences all social interactions.
The first approach, the study of individual differences, has dominated the research for a significant period of time. Sex differences are relatively easy to measure, so biological sex becomes a variable that is frequently assessed. What people look for is whether men and women use different tactics and/or reach different kinds of agreements. The results are equivocal. For example, the belief that women are more collaborative than men is borne out in some studies but not in others. Some research finds that women are more attentive to relationships and care about building and preserving them. Generally, women are oriented more to actions of others and set strategy in relation to the actions of others, whereas men are more focused on task and their own positions. Negotiation tactics may also differ with men being more positional and women more flexible. The outcomes achieved by men and women may also differ in terms of substantive issues and relationships, equality versus equity, and the short term versus the long term. Others find no direct main effects attributable to sex.
Context can affect the results. For example, more differences are likely to show up in negotiations with strangers, between negotiators of the same sex, and in less intense conflicts. Others suggest that gender is an artifact of situation and intertwined with power and position, i.e., that differences in negotiating style and stance that we attribute to gender might be either the result of gendered power differences or an interaction of power and gender (Watson 1994). Although positional power, e.g., a vice president or a secretary, has been shown to be a better predictor of difference than gender, power seems to exert differential effects on men and women. Higher power men act in a more aggressive and assertive manner and tend to use more “take it or leave it” strategies. High-powered women are not as aggressive or assertive. Indeed, one of the differences is the degree to which women feel their power is legitimated by others.
These efforts to find conclusive evidence that men and women negotiate differently leave us with a confused picture. Laboratory studies, the research method of choice, produce equivocal findings. The few field studies of men and women in the area of salary and other financial negotiations do show some differences between them. Research on salary negotiation finds that women seem to realize lower returns to their salary negotiation efforts. This may be because they set lower aspirations and use fewer self-promotion tactics, or because they compare their own pay to the pay of other women, who tend to be paid less than men (Crosby 1982). Research on car buying finds that women and minorities pay higher prices than white males for automobiles. Not only do they achieve lower returns, but opening offers differ among these groups (Ayres 1991). Here the issue is not what the negotiators themselves do but differential perceptions of what members of different groups will accept.
There is a great temptation to isolate negotiating differences by gender, but the research suggests that it is impossible to give definitive answers to questions about how men and women negotiate. But apart from the limitations of the research, there are two other reasons that this approach raises problems. First, it frames the issue of gender as one based on an individual’s biological sex without any theory to explain why. Further, it minimizes the importance of social context and roles that can position men and women rather differently in a negotiation. Second, the perspective is a static one. It grafts women onto existing structures and practices. Thus, whether differences are to be valued or bemoaned, the result of personal choice or situationally determined, they are understood almost entirely in the context of existing theory and practice.
A second approach to the issue of gender and negotiation is feminist standpoint theory by Harding (1986). It claims that existing theory and practice is incomplete because it has systematically excluded women’s experiences. For the most part, the literature on negotiation is written from the perspective of white, Western males. Women’s experiences are different for a host of reasons, including their socialization and development, their social roles and positions in society, and their responsibility for child rearing.
Several scholars have tried to develop a feminist standpoint perspective on negotiation. Kolb and Coolidge (1991) suggest that there are masculine and feminine approaches that frame how negotiators approach negotiations. In particular, a feminine approach would emphasize the importance of relationships, the context within which negotiations occur, efforts to establish power with rather than over another person, and a connective, not conflictual communication style. While an approach to negotiation might be considered masculine or feminine, it does not necessarily mean that it is perfectly correlated with men and women respectively. Some women use masculine approaches just as some men use feminine approaches.
There are three problems with this perspective. First, feminist standpoint theory does not reflect the experiences of all men and women. Second, masculine and feminine approaches to negotiation are not equally valued or perceived equally when enacted by men and women. As many argue, since we live in a society where men have more power than women, it makes sense to assume that what is considered more worthy are those qualities associated with men. Indeed, the feminist standpoint theory approach may actually reinforce stereotypes of men and women. It can lead to a priori expectations about the negotiating stance that can disadvantage those who use a feminine approach. The stereotype may be further reinforced if a woman uses the “feminine” approach (Grillo 1991).
Finally, it is easy to co-opt a feminist standpoint. Northrup (1994) suggests that when an expressive concern for relationships is incorporated into existing theory, it is transformed from a relational concept to one that is instrumentally used in the service of self. It becomes another way to push gender into the background and prevent it from challenging existing theory.
A third approach is one that looks at gender relations where gender is not about men and women per se. Rather, gender is viewed as a belief system that structures and gives meaning to social interactions. A gender-relations perspective causes us to look at the relationships between constructs and categories associated with masculinity and femininity. These relationships presently are hierarchical and generally defined through the male experience. Bern (1992) uses the term androcentrism to describe the hierarchical relationship in which the male experience becomes the norm and the female experience is seen as different and less valuable. Indeed, by rendering male as the norm taken for granted and woman as the other, gender relations are established in terms of dominance and inequality. This hierarchical relationship is sustained through opposition or gender polarization that permeates our language, such as male-female, instrumental-relational, individual-collective, powerful-powerless, and rational-emotional. In each polarity the element linked to the “masculine” dominates the attribute that characterizes the “feminine.” Thus, it is in the enactment of the meaning that gender is created. In other words, language and action do not reflect women’s and men’s reality as much as they create them.
Feminist scholars reveal how these meanings are sustained in the production of scientific knowledge that renders some features as true and taken for granted as natural, while others are hidden or seen as aberrant. Our concepts of leadership, for example, focus on individual heroics and decisiveness as necessary attributes. Collaboration and power sharing, attributes that emphasize the feminine, are often defined as nonleader-like, even though they may be important attributes of leaders. By questioning what is named and normal, feminist scholars expose the biases implicit in what is taken for granted as neutral and objective. Applying these concepts to negotiation theory and practice allows us to consider in what ways that theory is gendered.
Analyzing Negotiation through the Looking Glass of Gender
Negotiation is seen as gendered when attributes more commonly associated with one gender are valued, thereby making attributes associated with the other gender seem less valuable. In families, for example, parenting tends to be based on notions of nurturance and care associated with mothering. Hence, acts of fathering may be judged inadequate compared with these feminine attributes. Unlike parenting, however, negotiation as currently theorized is stereotypically masculine. In other words, a negotiation analysis perspective rests on those qualities that are culturally valued in males: individuality and independence, competition, objectivity, analytic rationality, instrumentality, reasoning from universal principles, and strategic thinking, among others. Indeed, one could argue that the ideal negotiator is male. In the polar relationship, those attributes stereotypically labeled feminine are less valued or ignored in bargaining: community and dependence, cooperation, subjectivity, intuition and emotionality, expressivity, reasoning from particulars, and ad hoc thinking.
This has practical consequences. One is that other alternatives to the male-dominated ideal emerge as peculiar, naive, ignorant, or irrelevant. Where strategic communication or playing close to the vest dominates, talking honestly about what you really want is to appear hopelessly naive. Where being rational and detached is valued, to act emotional and upset is perceived as disruptive. Emotions are seen to block rational thinking and make it difficult to process information, to think integratively, and to make concessions on proposals. Anger is considered normal, perhaps even strategic in negotiation, whereas other emotions such as anxiety, fear, and despair are deemed injudicious to display. If these more valued features are enacted by men and the less valued by women in particular situations, then gendered expectations are further reinforced.
Negotiation analysis places certain concepts in a prominent position: the self-interested negotiator, rational judgment, exchanges and offers, and the search for efficient agreements. A gender perspective uncovers aspects of negotiation that are invisible, unexplained, suppressed, or in the background. They remain hidden because these other elements overshadow them in importance. In particular, relational, contextual, and process dimensions are hidden or invisible. By looking at what has been in the background of negotiation, a gender perspective highlights the interactive setting, rather than the individuals and what they bring to the table, as the place where the substance and process of negotiations are constructed.
Using a gender lens helps us focus on negotiation practices, that is, the meaningful actions taken and words spoken by bargainers engaged in the process of negotiation (Putnam 1994). This perspective treats as dynamic and evolving the very elements taken for granted in current negotiation analysis. Thus, the identities of negotiators are worked out during negotiations as participants act on and alter their predispositions and their expectations for future interactions, and structure their working relationships. Goals, interests, and aspirations are not fixed, but are continually defined and redefined through interaction. Rationality is not an independent state of being, but is contextually and situationally defined. Existing theory silences the interactive complexities of negotiation by keeping the process dimension invisible.
Our purpose here is to focus on two basic assumptions in negotiation analysis. We consider the following: (1) the negotiator as an autonomous agent who acts from a position that is distinct and separate from others, and (2) the definition of negotiation as primarily a strategic and instrumental activity. We analyze each assumption through the lens of gender by examining: (1) the centrality of the assumption in negotiation theory and research; (2) how practice, theory, and research reinforce certain ways of being and action and diminish or co-opt others; (3) what features are hidden or de-emphasized; and then (4) what other alternatives for being and acting in negotiation are possible.
This gender perspective makes it possible to envision alternatives and complements to existing theories. By revealing aspects of negotiation that are less valued and invisible, a gender perspective introduces options for expanded conceptions of negotiation that are more inclusive and less gendered. It is important to emphasize that the purpose of a gender perspective is not to substitute one model of practice for another, but to create space where new ways of thinking and acting can be openly considered. Alternatives are discussed as ideas that need further development. They can, however, spark our thinking about areas worthy of further research and alert us to the need to be more eclectic in what we define as valuable research and good negotiation practice.
Gender Biases in Negotiation
Over time, employers have moved away from relying solely on the traditional dispute management approach based on remediation toward greater reliance on more proactive prevention and problem solving activities. This has focused attention on the process of negotiation as an important tool to facilitate workplace dispute resolution through problem solving close to the source of the dispute.
Workplace disputes are not typically disputes between strangers, but rather involve people who know each other to some degree and who may have worked together for a number of years. In this context, the parties to a dispute must manage in their negotiations the tension between fairness and self-interest, the impact of the nature of their relationship on how they choose to handle disputes, and the impact of gender biases.
While fairness of treatment of the parties to a dispute is an important value supported by employee and employers, there often is a tension between acting in a fair manner and in pursuing one’s own self-interest. In a negotiation the parties want to do as well as possible, but fairness is important in maintaining ongoing relationships, managing disputes, and influencing the outcomes of a dispute. Diekmann, Tenbrunsel, and Bazerman discuss the economic and behavioral decision theory perspectives on fairness in negotiation and the ambiguity and subjective factors confronted in efforts to define fairness. They argue that although people are constrained by fairness, they will maximize their own outcomes when they can justify doing so. Justifications and impression management are used to resolve the tension between self-interest and fairness. People manage the impression of being fair so they are perceived as being fair to gain social approval in the negotiation process.
Greenhalgh and Chapman argue that the characteristics of the relationship between the parties are the central determinants of the process and outcome of the dispute. They argue that the interpersonal nature of a relationship determines the choice of relying primarily on power, negotiation, or conflict resolution to handle disputes, as well as the process to be used to implement each option and the effectiveness of the implementation. Power is the ability to gain compliance with an outcome that benefits the person using power. They distinguish between negotiation, or getting commitment to a particular course of action to settle a dispute, and conflict resolution techniques used in a persuasive process to reframe the dispute as a mutual problem to be worked out jointly.
Consequently, they argue that it is important to understand how people think about and assess relationships. They report the findings of their research which identify four sets of factors that determine the nature of the relationship between parties. These factors are attraction, rapport, bonding, and the scope and time horizons of the relationship. Attraction includes common interests, affection, whether the other person is stimulating, and romantic interest. Rapport covers trust, the openness of the relationship, empathy, acceptance, and respect. Bonding determines the degree to which parties see each other as allies or enemies, how competitive they are, and the benefits a person receives from a relationship.
Kolb and Putnam use the “lens of gender” and feminist standpoint theory to explore our understanding of negotiation as a social activity for problem solving. They review the current theory of negotiation analysis and discuss three factors that result in the “gendering” of the theory. First, attributes associated with masculine worldviews are more prominent than those associated with feminine perspectives. Second, there is no recognition of how the different social and power positions of negotiators influence the definition of the dispute and the options and ability to participate in bargaining. Finally, certain “invisible” features of the negotiation process, such as the creation of a comfortable context for a good working relationship, are ignored. In addition, Kolb and Putnam review the three major approaches used to frame gender issues in negotiation. None yield straightforward answers about how to deal with a man or a woman in a negotiation.
They discuss the impact of these gender biases by considering two basic assumptions in the current theory of negotiation: the concept of the negotiator as a purely autonomous individual agent and the view of negotiation as primarily an instrumental activity, that is, a means of achieving particular outcomes by selecting strategies expected to lead to those outcomes. A focus on the autonomous agent ignores the connections built by interpersonal relationships and interests among the parties to a dispute and how these connections are fostered during negotiations to build a comfortable psychological and emotional context and working relationship. Instead of a focus on the instrumentality of negotiation, they argue that negotiation is a process of transformation that can change the expectations, explanations, and understandings about the negotiation process. It provides a forum for the parties to interact that also can move the resolution of a dispute toward previously unconsidered outcomes once interests, issues, preferences, and options are expressed openly.
Agency in Negotiation and the Devaluing of Difference
Agency is a gendered concept. The observation can be made historically, legally, and psychologically that the concept of agency is masculine and not typically associated with a feminine notion of identity. When we look at agency through a gender lens, two major concerns arise. First, the notion of agency is understood in light of its opposite — community. Yet negotiators who act from a sense of community are likely to have their actions judged less effective. Second, when alternative approaches that emanate from a concept of community are theorized or practiced, they tend to get incorporated into existing models in ways that co-opt them and alter their meanings significantly.
When negotiators relate to each other communally, their negotiations are likely to be seen as different and less effective. Recent research on friends, dating couples, and people who identify with each other suggests that when intimacy and caring for another are salient, people engage in different kinds of behaviors. They use behaviors that are less individualistic and self-interested. Under these circumstances, there is less focus on self-interest and more on finding fair and equitable outcomes. Some claim that such equitable outcomes maximize social utility, but they tend not to approach the idealized benchmark of integrative settlements and therefore are judged “suboptimal.” Such assessments are not neutral or objective, but are embedded in the experimental designs and moral order on which the empirical findings are based.
Behaviors that make sense when negotiators care about and feel connected to each other are mobilized in current negotiation analysis as a means to further one’s self-interest. Thus, it is in a negotiator’s interest to protect the “face” of others (Wilson 1992), to act trustworthy, and to care about what matters to others. Northrup (1994) sums it up well. She suggests that when a feminine concern for relationships is incorporated into existing models, it is transformed from a relational concept tied to a concern for community to one used in the service of self. Its meaning and value are changed in the process.
Invisible Elements of Agency in Negotiation
To succeed as a negotiator according to current negotiation analysis, one must necessarily have agency. The problem is that agency is not something you either have or do not have. Rather, to be perceived as a self-interested negotiator is to act like one and to do so in a way that persuades others. This means we should study the actions taken to establish and re-establish this identity throughout a negotiation. The problem is that the model of the negotiator with agency has ignored how negotiators develop agency in the contexts of negotiations and how they establish their legitimacy as an ongoing accomplishment of bargaining.
The assumptions of the negotiator with agency obscure how agency is actually accomplished: the actions taken at and away from the table, including moves that bargainers make on their own or in connection with others. Preparation, for example, so highly touted as a means to anticipate the action of others, becomes one method to establish agency (Roloff & Jordan 1992). Planning, then, can be as much an exercise in psychological readiness as in economic preparedness.
To be a negotiator with agency is to be positioned in the process as such. This notion of agency centers on the language and repetitive actions negotiators use to manage impressions and expectations. Negotiators make their identity and reputation visible and available, sometimes on their own but also with the help of others. Authority to negotiate and speak on behalf of others is made real through conversational and structural gambits (Friedman 1994). Thus agency is embedded in conversational practices where negotiators construct positions for themselves and others. A negotiator’s position in the process determines the platform from which she can speak. Parties who are positioned positively have more leverage in constructing the major plots and themes in which the issues are embedded. A negative position leads to reactive or defensive stances. Claims of agency are always subject to disruption, challenge, and repair.
The achievement of agency is sometimes a team performance. All negotiators operate within the context of a social system. In negotiation research the relationship of social context to negotiation process and outcome is generally narrowed to discussions of how negotiators bring their clients or constituents along. The support function is invisible. McEwen (1994) argues that in the rhetoric of mediation, decision makers are supposed to act autonomously; they are cut off from their attorneys and other support or institutional systems that sustain them. Once the notion of agency is made visible as a practice, then the ways that others help a negotiator find a place from which to speak are brought into focus.
Coalition-building activities can also be seen as part of the invisible work of constructing agency. Most of the work on coalitions involves dynamics in large, multiparty negotiations such as the Law of the Sea and GATT (Sebenius 1984), or interorganization negotiations. When agency is the concern, the focus is on how negotiators enlist behind-the-scenes support. The role of teams and social networks become more important in this regard.
To operate within the negotiation analysis framework means enacting the role of negotiator with agency. Negotiators are differentially positioned, often by gender, in the resources they have to be credible agents. Given the differential social constructions of gender, these approaches can never be wholly satisfactory. But a gender lens also helps us envision forms of negotiation practice that highlight interpersonal connection as the base upon which the process and agreements are built.
Conclusions and Implications
When we look at negotiation theory, research, and practice through a gender lens, we are questioning several taken-for-granted concepts and looking at them in new ways. This article proposes an approach that enables us to analyze existing frameworks and to recover what has been hidden as a step toward developing a more encompassing and inclusive vision of negotiation. Specifically, we have used a gender lens to challenge the agency model of the individual negotiator and the instrumental definition of negotiation process to show how alternative ways of being and acting have become devalued and/or co-opted in current theory, research, and practice. A gender lens helps us to recover features of negotiation that are important but less visible, particularly the process dimensions of agency and communicative practice. These insights help us envision alternative approaches in which connected negotiations provide the bases for transformation and innovation.
There are clear implications for the development of theory, research, and practice. There are many other theoretical concepts and assumptions that could be viewed through a gender lens to uncover what is hidden and how theory might be revised by different ways of looking at the issues. Assumptions that bargainers should aspire to rationality, that negotiation is fundamentally a process of exchange, and that bargaining power depends on the alternatives to agreement would look different through a gender lens.
In order to develop alternative visions of negotiation and the possibilities for transformation, however, our approaches to research will need to be broadened as well. We will need to pay much more attention to the context of negotiations and how it positions negotiators and shapes negotiations. We will also need to understand complex negotiations as processes that involve more than money and simple tradeoffs. In addition, we will need to understand more about the varied ways that negotiators interact with each other to define themselves, their issues, and their possibilities, and how these interactions are influenced by different kinds of relationships. Finally, we need to attend more to feelings and emotions, to how meanings are constructed, to how negotiators participate in each other’s experience.
A gender lens also implies different values of practice. These values include designing processes that are inclusive rather than exclusive, that support the equitable treatment of people in different circumstances, and that bridge differences and foster learning from diversity. The challenge is to foster these values in negotiation.
Human resource professionals are uniquely positioned to make use of the insights a gender lens offers for their dispute management activities. First, they are often charged with promoting the very values described. Helping an organization learn from its diversity and mobilizing that diversity toward goals of creativity and transformation are part of the mission of the human resource function. Second, it is under the auspices of these departments that many negotiations occur. Collective bargaining, salary negotiations, grievance and complaint handling are among its responsibilities. Human resource professionals can ask such questions as: How are these negotiations conducted? Does the process foster full participation or are certain behaviors, and therefore those who display them, positioned to advantage? Does the practice close out possibilities for enacting negotiations in new ways that benefit a wider spectrum of stakeholders?
Similar questions might also be asked about any training provided in negotiation skills. Training in negotiation skills has become increasingly popular in organizations and professional schools. Human resource professionals might use a gender lens to ask what values and forms of practice are being promoted in negotiation training. Are these the values the organization wants to promote? Are the techniques taught equally useful to all participants? What is the connection between what is taught and what the organization actually rewards?
Finally, human resource professionals are likely to be parties themselves either in negotiation or as facilitators and mediators in formal and informal disputes. These occasions provide opportunities to shape the forms negotiations will take in organizations. As such, human resource professionals need to become reflective about their own practices and the messages they convey. In the mediation role, for example, do they act in ways that empower full participation, or are they more likely to replicate existing power structures? Do they design a process that encourages broad consideration of issues or are they more likely to narrow the domain of the possible?
Looking at negotiations through a gender lens encourages us to critically evaluate how specific practices are gendered, in the sense that they reinforce masculine ways of being over the feminine. These practices limit the potential for negotiation to be a more creative way to deal with conflict at the workplace. By envisioning what a connected approach to negotiations might look like, we examine the possibilities for more participation, greater acknowledgment of interdependence, and for the process to be one in which new meanings are created that lead to transformation. These new ways are never obvious. They require a new perspective, perhaps one imported by an outsider, to highlight them for us.
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Cite this Impact of Gender in Negotiations
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