Women Flirt While Men Negotiate…Really?

Are women more successful negotiators when they flirt?  This has become a hot topic with the release of research entitled Feminine Charm:  An Experimental Analysis of its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations.   It’s an interesting question and one that Bill Maher asked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2009.  She freely admits she flirted when negotiating with heads of state.

Sex Sells

Sex sells and in negotiating you can’t get much sexier than flirting so the research has gotten good media pickup.  Articles have appeared in many blogs. Some have done a marvelous job reviewing the research paper such as Flirting as an effective negotiation tool for women and many have pretty much used the press release to hit on the highlights. The highlights truly do not give this research justice.

The paper refers to feminine charm as a combination of friendliness and flirtation.   The authors, Laura J. Kray, Connson C. Locke and Alex B. Van Zant, conducted four different experiments to investigate 1) whether men could use their personal charm in negotiations as women can use theirs; 2) the perception of friendliness and flirtatiousness; 3) was feminine charm effective in zero sum negotiations; and finally 4) was flirting effective in complex negotiations with multiple issues.

Flirting Does Help in Zero Sum Negotiations

It’s the fourth experiment that really got my attention because it was an employment contract with eight issues including salary. I will address that in one moment.  First let me give the results of the first three questions.  1) In the experiments men personal charm did not have a positive nor negative effect on negotiations so it appears as though masculine charm is no match for feminine charm.  2) Friendliness is perceived as a concern for the other person while flirting is perceived as a concern for self.  3) In a zero-sum game, (one person’s gain is the other person’s loss) women who flirted and were perceived as flirting did better than the women who acted in a neutral manner in the negotiation.

So far the headlines of flirting is an effective negotiation tool seems appropriate.  Ah, but now we move to complex negotiations like employment agreements.  Here’s where the use of flirting also got complex.

Flirting and Employment Negotiations

Complex negotiations with multiple issues give negotiators the opportunity to expand the overall value of the negotiated items by sharing information and trading-off with the other party or parties. For example, if I don’t care about a start date but the company can save huge money by having me start and train with a group of other new employees than that is an easy issue to settle.   I need to look for a concession from the other party for that start date and I need to make sure I don’t make it too obvious that it is not an issue for me one way or another.  Remember I just saved the company money by this move.  Can I recoup that money in extra vacation time or salary for me?

According to the experiment, women who used their feminine charm did grow the overall value of the employment agreement but the gains were made for the other negotiator.  This was true whether the women played the employer or the employee.  In all these employment negotiations the other part was a male.   So in complex negotiations flirting did not work to the woman’s advantage.

Feminine Charm

So what exactly is feminine charm? To be precise here is how the researchers advised the participants to use feminine charm:

“In the feminine charm condition, females were advised to be animated in their body movements, make frequent eye contact with their partner, smile, and laugh. They were further advised to be playful and to compliment their partner in as sincere a fashion as possible. Females in the neutral style condition were advised to focus on the information in their role materials, be prepared, and remain in their role. They were further advised to act natural and be themselves. Male participants were pro- vided the neutral style instructions. All participants were told that the interaction style works best when it is subtle. To ensure that, regardless of interaction style condition, negotiators remained focused on economic outcomes, all negotiators were explicitly told that their primary goal was to get the best economic deal possible.”

Collaborative Negotiating Seen as Flirting

Like I said, sex sells but research and being exact can suck the life out of the sexiness.  Reading the researchers’ instructions for feminine charm and the definitions of friendliness and flirtatiousness reminds me of collaborative negotiating.   Collaborative negotiating is the win/win style when at least one of the parties is empathic to the other parties and tries to grow the value of the overall negotiation to give each person some improvement in the overall agreement, thus a win/win for everyone.  Perhaps one problem with thinking of collaborative negotiating as flirting might be that we lose sight that we need a win every time we help the other party get a win.

In conclusion, be friendly, be yourself, be empathic towards the other person, but don’t lose sight that you are negotiating for yourself.  You need to be concerned for yourself and you need to convey that you are concerned with your needs.  Call it flirting.  Call it collaborative negotiating.  Call it what you will but if the other party doesn’t believe you are looking out for yourself then they will win the negotiation.