My caller ID shows it’s the 59th call from the same online university telemarketer. I politely requested they remove me from their call list the third time they called. This time I’m not feeling so inclined to tilt my head in deference and politeness.
I’m annoyed, right? So tell me, why do I feel a knot of tension and resistance about the imminent conversation? How is it that other people have no trouble saying, “Take me off your flippin’ list or I’ll give your name and number to my uncle Vito”?
Before we get to answers, here’s another question: how many of you have ever in your life had to call the big guys at GMAC or Ford Motor Credit (or any creditor for that matter) and ask “permission” to pay your bill two weeks late? Did you get a knot in your stomach? Avoid the call for days or even weeks? I mean it’s shameful not being able to pay your bills, right?
What about your annual performance review? The kind that’s supposed to result in a bonus? Do you sweat scheduling it? And when you do nail down a date do you lose sleep and start having make-believe two-sided conversations with yourself about your failures and missed deadlines and botched results?
Notice I’m not talking about the negotiation itself. The conversation leading to agreement. I’m talking about the preamble to the conversation…the one in our heads where everything gets bollixed. This preamble space is where all our interactions with headmasters and principals and freaky balding gym teachers and taciturn bosses and parents with big butt-welting belts repeat in a closed loop in our psyches. Somewhere in our past we did something or wanted something and as a result we were thwarted by a force larger than ourselves. From that moment on, we can smell a fight coming and we will do anything to avoid it.
This is why any good negotiation training program—especially those for women—must begin by exploring and getting a handle on our conflict management strategies, namely avoidance, suppression, resolution, transformation and transcendence. Before we’re conscious of our patterns, most of us float between avoidance and resolution. Once we’re aware and have a little practice in the process, we work in favor of transformation and transcendence.
In Susannah Breslin’s post Why Men Are Better Negotiators than Womenshe offers that if we see negotiation through the male filter she describes, not only do they “lie better,” they use negotiation “to intimidate” and are therefore better negotiators. And indeed, this is the perspective many women hold as true, and why they resist negotiation at all costs.
The Big Secret
You’ve been living a lie. In negotiation—anything from salary to noisy neighbors to barking dogs—women don’t need intimidation and lies (usually, but that’s another post). We naturally seek affinity and common ground. We are more concerned with relationship and mutual best interest than we are intimidation and for this reason we are much better equipped than men to produce collaborative, durable agreements—meaning our agreements last, and don’t induce lingering resentment. We are good at this.
The only thing we lack is confidence and a bit of study in the exquisite tools and strategies of interest-based (win-win) negotiation. Once we get this down, we transform everything.