When men are—and aren’t—more likely to negotiate than women
January 23, 2020 Negotiation Research

Women can be less likely than men to initiate negotiations, a meta-analysis of existing studies on the topic concluded last year. Because negotiation is widely perceived as requiring stereotypically “masculine” traits, such as assertiveness and independence, rather than stereotypically “feminine” traits, such as concern for others and passivity, women may feel less comfortable launching negotiations than men do. And women who do initiate negotiations can face a backlash for violating traditional gender roles.

Notably, however, most of the research done on gender and negotiation has focused on single-issue job negotiations over compensation. Are women less likely to initiate negotiations in other contexts?

To find out, researcher Julia A.M. Reif of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and her colleagues asked about 1,300 German university students to describe situations in which they might consider initiating negotiations. Based on their responses, students identified 13 broad categories of negotiations: compensation; contracts; finances (such as fees, debt, and financial support); workplace (such as hours and tasks); leisure; markets (such as flea markets); communal living (negotiations with roommates and neighbors); products and prices; public institutions (such as negotiations with teachers or the police); rent; services (hairdresser, restaurants, etc.); social environment (friends and family); and stores.

In another online experiment, 358 students and employed adults were asked to imagine themselves in 13 specific negotiation contexts (each based on one of the 13 categories) and to indicate the likelihood that they would initiate such negotiations. They were also asked to assess how confident they were in their ability to handle such negotiations and whether they expected to benefit from negotiating.

Men were more likely than women to say that they would conduct negotiations in the categories of public institutions, contracts, compensation, workplace, and rent. Women felt less confident in their ability to handle negotiations in these contexts and also believed they would receive little benefit from them, perhaps because they anticipated a backlash. Women had higher intentions than men to negotiate communal-living situations. For the other seven categories (finances, leisure, markets, products and prices, services, social environment, and stores), men and women had similar intentions to negotiate.

More research is needed to determine whether people’s predictions of whether they would negotiate in a given situation are accurate. But the results of Reif and her colleagues’ study suggest that women are just as likely as men to feel comfortable initiating negotiations in a variety of contexts not captured by past research. The findings also help to pinpoint contexts in which organizations—and society at large—need to work on eliminating the backlash that women have learned they will face when they assert themselves.

Source: “Negotiation Contexts: How and Why They Shape Women’s and Men’s Decision to Negotiate,” by Julia A.M. Reif, Fiona A. Kunz, Katharina G. Kugler, and Felix C. Brodbeck. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 2019.

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