“There’s this myth out there that women aren’t as good negotiators as men,” says Hillary Anger Elfenbein. “And I want to try to shatter that myth.”
Elfenbein, The John and Ellen Wallace Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior, shatters that myth on a regular basis in the Olin courses she teaches on negotiation. On October 18, she will share highlights from her research on gender differences in negotiation and how women can confidently approach the process in a free webinar, “Women at the Negotiation Table,” sponsored by Olin’s Executive MBA program.
“There are differences in the way women approach negotiations versus men and there are often differences in outcomes, but these differences can be overcome, especially with a few very simple changes in frame of reference that are easy to accomplish without necessarily changing one’s overall personality,” explains Elfenbein.
Elfenbein also advocates for a broader definition of negotiation. It’s much more than haggling over the price of a new car or a promotion, or a new job’s salary. While those are extremely important negotiations, Elfenbein says it’s helpful to recognize that we are actually negotiating all the time, and can improve our techniques on a daily basis.
“The most accepted scholarly definition of negotiation is that it’s a mutual decision-making process to allocate scarce resources. And if you take that definition seriously enough, we’re negotiating constantly. This definition is as true for who does the dishes and who stays late on the weekends. Who has to come in to the office, what roles are you going to take, how are you dividing labor in your team. All of those things are a negotiation, just as much as the price of a car.”
Research shows that men and women may end up with similar outcomes in a negotiation, but they often get there in different ways. In very broad generalities, women are more apt to find trade-offs and compatibilities in the process, while men tend to engage in more assertive haggling. Elfenbein says these kinds of stereotypes can create psychological obstacles for women.
“If you survey people after a negotiation, and ask people to self-report their scores, women will, by and large, self-report that they did worse. That feeling matters, because even though you might say, ‘It’s all in your head,’ well, a lot of things are in our heads, and that makes them real, that makes them consequential. If you go through life feeling like you’re not good at something, you’re going to avoid doing it. And if you don’t enter a negotiation, then you’re not going to be able to advocate for your needs.”
In her Olin courses and the upcoming webinar, Elfenbein shares ways for women to shift their frame of reference and attitude when approaching negotiation. It takes practice, but they can be changed and make a difference in how to negotiate with confidence and success.
“The kinds of techniques that you learn in the negotiations workshop are as applicable outside of work as they are at work. I like to think that the tools that we that we teach here are useful and adaptable to negotiations of all types.”
Hillary Anger Elfenbein has been a business school professor at the Olin School of Washington University in St. Louis since 2008. She holds a PhD in Organizational Behavior, a Master’s degree in Statistics, and undergraduate degrees in Physics and Sanskrit, all from Harvard University.
Examples of Dr. Elfenbein’s research on negotiation: