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Plan to exploit your gender advantage

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Woman or man, it doesn’t matter. Each side of the gender divide has a distinct edge in negotiations when the situation is unclear, according to Harvard researchers.

In such cases—when the limits and opportunities cloud negotiation— men step up their competitiveness while women intercede better on behalf of others.

Examples: The researchers found no difference in the salaries men and women negotiated within industries with well-defined wages. But in fields with highly ambiguous wage scales, male MBAs negotiated salaries averaging $10,000 more than those of female MBAs. (That’s $1.5 million over a career, if saved at 5 percent annual interest.)

On the other hand, when women negotiate for others as an advocate or agent, they hold a significant edge over men.

That emerged from a study of executives who were asked to negotiate on behalf of themselves or their protégés in an ambiguous situation with no reference points or standards of agreement. Women nailed wages 18 percent higher for others than for themselves and about 18 percent higher than the men negotiated.

How do you use that information while negotiating?
  1. Bolster your more aggressive gender trigger while subduing your weaker one.

    • Women: Inspire yourself by remembering that you’re representing the team, and know that you’ll help the team by helping yourself.

    • Men: Ramp up your competitive drive, knowing that what benefits the team will help you.

  2. Know your stuff. Just because the situation is ambiguous for others doesn’t mean it has to be for you. Research industry norms and precedents, and ask for whatever you need.

  3. Make your goals crystal clear in your own negotiations and when sending your people into bargaining situations. Both men and women do better when they have information and targets.
—Adapted from “When Does Gender Matter in Negotiation?” Dina W. Pradel, Hannah Riley Bowles, Kathleen L. McGinn, Negotiation.

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