Are Women Naturally Better Negotiators Than Men?

    
I teach a negotiation course at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in the M.B.A. program. If you’re in my course then you’re probably in the Evening Program. (I do teach some classes in the full-time day program. The students are a little younger and a little bit less experienced than the Evening Program students – but very, very sharp nonetheless.) If you’re in the Evening Program you’re in your late 20’s to early 30’s in age. You have a full time job and you’re getting your M.B.A. at night. You may have small children. What this means is that you’re an extremely capable mid-level executive who is a rising star. Pretty cool people and fun to teach.

 

Typically the class size is 32 students. Approximately 5-7 are women. (This is true of both day and evening classes.)

I’ve been teaching at McDonough since the fall semester of 2009 and have taught 20 classes. Roughly 620 students. (This is the data sample for the outcome I’m about to proffer over the next paragraphs.)

If you’re in my class I take you hostage and figuratively put a “gun” to your head. Do this or else. To get an acceptable grade in my class you have to try the hostage negotiation based skills I teach you in a business or personal setting and you have to write a paper about it. The paper has to follow the structure I set out and is approximately 1200 words long (about two pages). Don’t do this and – bang. I blow a hole in your grade.

The skills are largely counter-intuitive to what many people view as negotiation and it takes some courage for you to try them out. Just because I TELL you it will work, doesn’t mean you’ll try it. Many people take up until the third week or so before they’ll have the courage to try the skills where they have some real skin in the game. (Some essentially never get the courage and will never try them on anyone other than a significant other in a personal relationship or a class simulation; and then only half-heartedly.)

Now if you made me go to Vegas and bet whether the first paper handed in (where someone had the courage to try these skills in a business setting AND made a real breakthrough) would be from a man or a woman, I’d bet it would be a woman. More than half the time it’s a woman who has had the courage and been the first to try the skills in a business setting and achieved a real breakthrough. This is especially interesting considering the odds are against the first paper being from a woman due to the sheer numbers in the first place.

I hadn’t noticed this trend until 2011 when I was asked to speak at the Georgetown Graduate Women in Business (GWiB) conference. This was both a privilege and a lot of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I also got to listen to a number of phenomenal business leaders speak who incidentally happened to be women.

In preparation for this conference, I asked myself what it was that I had to offer? The first discovery was simply the recognition and sharing of this trend (women pushing out front first in my class). Then the question became – so?

I thought back to my experience as a law enforcement officer and the words of a female police officer (let’s call her Beth) I worked with at the Kansas City Missouri Police Department back in the early 80’s. At that time there were many unenlightened men who questioned women’s presence in law enforcement at all. I loved Beth’s perspective – “I have no illusions about the competency of all women nor the incompetency of all men.”

I then reached out to Tom Stentz for his thoughts. Tom is a sage and a truly great guy. Tom is also the father of the FBI’s hostage negotiation program and the author of two books on hostage negotiation (both of which belong in every hostage negotiator’s library) Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation and Hostage/Crisis Negotiations; Lessons Learned from the Bad, the Mad and the Sad.

Tom’s answer was this: “I always thought women…”

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Chris Voss

About The Author

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both M.B.A. programs.