Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein for MONEY; Getty Images (1)
By Martha C. White
July 27, 2016

Whether you’re a man or a woman influences how you negotiate, but not in the way you might think. How you approach, say, negotiating a salary with a new employer or bargaining for a raise depends not only on whether you’re a man or a woman, but whether the person on the other side of the table is male or female.

According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, negotiations between men often turn into power struggles, with both sides apt to stake out an extreme position. This is true even if both men have the same ostensible goal, the researchers found.

“Men negotiating with one another would be more likely to start at extreme high and low numbers, and struggle to work their way to a compromise,” said Cait Lamberton, associate professor of business administration at University of Pittsburgh and one of the study’s authors.

Swinging for the bleachers is a good idea if you’re a guy facing a male hiring manager, said Hristina Nikolova, assistant professor of marketing with the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and Lamberton’s co-author.

“Seeking a compromise or a golden middle is not a masculine trait, and men who do that in front of other men look weak in their eyes,” she said.

Although it might feel risky, staking out a bold position “is judged positively by other men,” Nikolova said. If you’re a man negotiating with another man, you need to be comfortable with potentially longer or more difficult negotiations.

The research notes that this effect of one-upmanship does not hold if a man is negotiating with a woman, nor is it how women negotiate with one another. If negotiating groups include one or more women, the tendency is to move to a middle ground or consensus decision, exhibiting what Nikolova termed “compromise effect bias”; that is, picking and sticking with the middle because it’s the easiest to rationalize.

While this sounds like a good thing, if you’re a woman looking for a higher starting salary or larger raise, it can actually hurt you, the researchers said.

“Women, by contrast, may try to begin with a number they feel is reasonable, but in fact may leave money on the table if they don’t consider opening with a more extreme offer,” Lamberton cautioned.

If you’re a woman, it doesn’t matter if you’re negotiating with a man or another woman. The advice is the same: Consider what you really want rather than settling for something less because it seems like a safe choice.

“Both men and women need to be aware of their tendencies … rather than just defaulting to the moderate or extreme position that feels most comfortable for them,” Nikolova said.

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