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Gender stereotypes in negotiation—does Sheryl Sandberg have it right?

How do you negotiate when you need to make a positive impression? The answer may depend on your gender.

lean-in-book-coverIn Sheryl Sandberg’s much discussed Lean In, the author describes research findings that women perceived as hard-charging types are liked less. She advises women to smile profusely during a negotiation, use the word “we” instead of “I,” and express appreciation to your bosses. Of course, Sandberg is aware of the contradictions implicit in these instructions, given the tenet of the book itself and adds, “No wonder women don’t negotiate.”

Her point is not lost on negotiation theorists who understand that for both genders there exists a tension between claiming value for oneself and being likeable in a conversation or negotiation. Women are assumed to be warm and relational, which might represent a barrier to advocating for themselves, whereas men are assumed to be competitive and thus less empathic in a conflict.

In “Making a Positive Impression in Negotiation: Gender Difference in Response to Impression Motivation” (Negotiation and Conflict Management Research), MIT Sloan Professor Jared Curhan and Jennifer R. Overbeck, of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, examined the ways in which impression motivation—the attempt to regulate other people’s impressions of oneself—affects a negotiator’s ability to claim value and to actually make a positive impression on his or her counterparts.

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