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Q&A with Lee Miller: Women and Negotiations

  • Frances Alonzo

President Obama's State of the Union Speech earlier this year said full-time working women earn 77% of what their male counterparts earn. Women also pay more for health care and cars. Could it be that women are not as good as negotiating as men are? A new study by Laura J. Kraya and Alex B. Van Zanta from the University of California as well as Jessica A. Kennedy at Vanderbilt University finds that women are more likely to be deceived.

Lee E. Miller is a co-author with his daughter of the book A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating: How To Convince, Collaborate And Create Your Way To Agreement. He told VOA's Frances Alonzo that women need to be active listeners in negotiations to truly understand what information is being conveyed to them to get a better outcome for themselves.

MILLER: Ethical negotiators don’t lie. And I think that’s true whether you’re negotiating with a woman or a man. Obviously, there are unethical negotiators and those people will, I think, perceive women as easier to lie to because women tend to be more truthful themselves and therefore they don’t listen so much for the nuances that signal that what’s being said in the negotiations isn’t meant as a fact but rather meant as a negotiating position. However, a sophisticated negotiator, and more men than women are more likely to listen to that carefully and hear what isn’t being said.

ALONZO: In this particular study, it said that if women had the personality just being warmer and friendlier, that they were more expected to be easily fooled. Have you found that?

MILLER: If someone values the relationship, if you make it clear that our relationship is a very important aspect of the outcome of what we are going to end up with at the end of this transaction - whereas the other side looks at it like I don’t really care much about this relationship, it’s all about the transaction - then it’s going to be a lot easier for the person who doesn’t care about the relationship to lie.

They can avoid it by frankly not being so open to belief. Be skeptical. Be very skeptical. Listen very carefully to what’s being said. Ask the question, “what do they have to gain by saying what they are saying? What are their motivations? And is their conduct consistent with their statement and are their statements consistent?” Because it’s really hard to lie consistently. So, if you are constantly asking questions, in different ways in different contexts, to test whether someone is telling the truth, then you are going to get a really good read on whether this person is telling you the truth or not.

And another little tip I would give to women who want to test whether someone is being honest with them or lying to them is to simply ask a question about something you know the answer to but the other party doesn’t know that you know the answer to, or doesn’t think that you would know the answer to and find out what they tell you. If they don’t give you an honest answer, then you ought to be very skeptical about everything they say. And if they give you a partial answer which may be misleading, then you should be skeptical as well.

ALONZO: In many cases, women may have been able to, through activism and being outspoken, they have been able to gain their places at the table, so to speak, but once they are there, how can they create an atmosphere for them to have a good outcome?

MILLER: That’s an excellent question because one of the things that again we have learned through our research is that tone is very important for women. And that one of the most effective ways for women, when they’ve got their seat at the table is what I call “quiet firm confidence.” You know when men get loud and aggressive, I don’t know that is always effective, but it is accepted as how men behave, but when women do it, it’s even less effective. So, when a woman is firm, “this is my position,” say it quietly, say it firmly, and don’t back off from it. Men will, when faced with that, say “ok, I guess she’s serious about this, let’s move on to something else.”

ALONZO: Once you have made the request, and what you have asked for has been granted and down the line you see things haven’t quite turned out the way you had hoped, how can you hold men accountable in negotiations?

MILLER: That’s the wrong time to be asking that question. The time to be asking that question is when you are making the request and they agree, make sure you make it enforceable. Part of that agreement is, ok, this is what’s going to happen and if it doesn’t happen these are the consequences. So part of your agreement to be effective needs to be as much as possible self-enforcing. Getting someone to make a promise is easy. Getting to make a promise which will have consequences if they don’t keep it, that’s both more difficult but certainly more valuable. Negotiating, like many things in life, it’s a learned skill. You need to learn it, you need to practice it. The key to being a really successful negotiator whether you are a man or a woman, is to understand self-awareness, understand what you bring to the table, understand the environment you are in, and use that to your best advantage.