Richards: Gender, ethics matter in negotiations
By Judith Richards
Ten years ago, I began incorporating a videotaped role-playing, coalition bargaining exercise into the negotiation and conflict management class I developed for the California Lutheran University MBA program. The simulation gives students an opportunity to practice using persuasion, collaboration and conflict resolution skills to overcome a competitive scenario. Examining how these simulations play out provides evidence that there are strong differences in negotiating based on gender and the structure of teams.
A drawing randomly placed students into one of three teams. I gave each student $2 and then collected the money to form the sum that they would negotiate over. I told them each $1 should be considered $1,000. Students met with their respective teams to plan and determine lead negotiators. Thereafter, only two teams could enter the room at one time for the four rounds of bargaining. There was only one issue to be negotiated, which consisted of forming a coalition. Ballots collected from each team at the end of the exercise indicated whether a coalition had been formed. Only two of the three teams would be eligible, and the funds could not be split 50-50. Students perceive the exercises as real situations rather than simulations.
Based on my study of the 20 videos I recorded and the 200 papers students wrote after watching their videos during debriefing sessions, males were more likely than females to engage in competitive strategies and unethical behavior 95 percent of the time. There was agreement that, overall, females employed more collaborative strategies than men, while men utilized more competitive strategies. Generally, two males engaged in bargaining end up playing hardball with a heated, antagonistic and aggressive confrontation. This was commonly followed by a tit for tat, where the other party responded in kind. Egos flared and a power-over, win-lose approach was generally taken. Frequently, bluffing occurred along with questionable ethical tactics such as one team leading two teams to believe they have a contract with both. Normally, the team with the most unethical strategies and strongest hardball tactics were excluded from a coalition.
Female students were focused on trying to achieve a win-win through a collaborative effort and often tried to sweeten the deal by throwing in food, including making cookies or providing snacks for everyone with the budget. Also, females overall utilized more positive frames, thoroughly asked questions, demonstrated a cooperative approach to communication and showed a stronger interest in the relationship. Hardball and questionable ethical tactics were rarely employed by females. There was a strong interest to ensure the needs of both teams would be met.
The videos validate that the dynamics change when the lead negotiators are a male and a female. The men can be viewed shifting their style to less assertive and more collaborative. When one male was questioned about the rationale for the style change, he responded, “If I come on too strong, I am afraid she will cry.” Surprisingly, traditional gender stereotypes are still being played out in the classroom, and there was overwhelming agreement from the students that gender influenced negotiations.
Teams were more likely than individuals to engage in competitive strategies and unethical behavior 90 percent of the time. All of the students concluded that the team simulation was more complex than dyad negotiations.
After taking this course, the majority of students tended to be more competitive and collaborative. This is good news, because both strategies are required to excel at negotiations. The research suggested that men could benefit from taking a more collaborative and less hardball approach to negotiations, while women could increase their effectiveness by employing more competitive tactics associated with claiming value.
Individuals engaging in team bargaining should employ ethical behavior in negotiations to build trust. The ability to transform a confrontational win-lose scenario into a win-win through negotiations can be a valuable skill in the classroom or workplace. Ideally, negotiations are about building versus burning bridges.
• Judith Richards is a lecturer and MBA adviser in the California Lutheran University School of Management.