When parties understand little about the limits of the bargaining range and appropriate standards for agreement, the ambiguity of a negotiation increases. In highly ambiguous negotiations, it becomes more likely that gender triggers—situational cues that prompt male-female differences in preferences, expectations, and behaviors—will influence negotiation behavior and outcomes. By contrast, in situations with low ambiguity, where negotiators understand the range of possible payoffs and agree on standards for distributing value, outcomes are less likely to reflect gender triggers. Some environments are full of triggers that encourage superior performance by women, while others are full of triggers that encourage superior performance by men. Rather than indicating innate differences between men and women, these triggers reflect stereotypes and long-standing behavioral biases.
These suggestions can help prevent gender from becoming a significant factor in negotiations:
1. Anticipate gender-related triggers. Some degree of ambiguity is present in all negotiations, so be aware of situations that may trigger gender stereotypes or role expectations. Work to counter gender triggers, or use them to benefit negotiation performance. In highly ambiguous, competitive environments, for example, men may be encouraged to maximize their outcomes by ramping up their competitive drive. Women, on the other hand, may be inspired by reminders that they’re representing not just themselves but their colleagues, department, company, or customers.
2. Do your homework. Whether you’re a man or a woman, learn as much as you can about what is possible or appropriate when heading into a salary negotiation or discussing a contract. Research industry norms, investigate precedent, and talk to others who are already employed at the firm or in the industry. Most important, don’t be afraid to ask for whatever you need to remain truly motivated and to get the job done well. You and your organization will be better off in the long run.
3. Create transparency surrounding compensation and benefits. To encourage gender equity regarding compensation and career development, your company should codify and publish opportunities and benefits that it may be willing to offer. This doesn’t mean standardizing benefits for all employees but clarifying the range of issues that are up for negotiation and the appropriate criteria on which decisions are based.
4. Articulate performance expectations. When sending your employees into competitive bargaining situations, clearly state performance goals. Armed with transparent comparative information and a sense of acceptable targets, both men and women will achieve better outcomes. Setting high but reasonable aspirations is good for all negotiators and may be especially beneficial for women in ambiguous, competitive negotiations.