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Fear May Help Business Women Negotiate Stronger

July 13, 2010

A little fear can go a long way when it comes to improving the negotiating skills of business women, a new study suggests.

Research from UCLA found that women benefit from using fear as a self-motivating tool to boost their earning power through negotiations. The opposite, however, proved true for men. In the “fear condition,” men were less likely to negotiate for higher payment amounts.

Overcoming the “Women Don’t Ask” Phenomenon

The findings come from laboratory experiments to determine if certain emotions — such as fear or anger — can help women overcome the much-studied Women Don’t Ask phenomenon.

The phenomenon, according to researchers Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, holds that women simply don’t ask for what they want and deserve — at least not as often as men do.

“It turns out that whether they want higher salaries or more help at home, women often find it hard to ask,” according to the researchers’ Women Don’t Ask Web site. “Sometimes they don’t know that change is possible — they don’t know that they can ask. Sometimes they fear that asking may damage a relationship. And sometimes they don’t ask because they’ve learned that society can react badly to women asserting their own needs and desires.”

How Fear Helps Women Negotiate

In the experiment, participants played a word game and were told that, depending on their performance, they would be paid between $4 and $12, and that the amount was negotiable. Prior to their payment negotiation, participants watched video clips to induce fear, anger or a neutral emotion.

What UCLA researchers uncovered, to their surprise, is that fear, but not anger, helps motivate women to overcome their don’t ask tendencies. The results: Frightened women took home larger payments than women who watched neutral video clips. Fearful men took home smaller payments. No gender differences were observed between angry and neutral subjects.

The researchers plan to conduct additional studies on why fear works to improve the negotiation abilities of women, but they have already developed some working theories. While fear, for example, solicits a “flight-or-fight” pattern in men, fear produces a “tend-and-befriend” tendency in women that goes back to our most basic animal instincts.

Researchers surmise that “women have evolved this response tendency that promotes caring for offspring (tend) and affiliating with other females (befriend) to cope with stress.”

According to the research report: “It may be that fearful women in our study were affiliating with the female experimenter (note: each experimental session was run by a woman), engaging in more chatty behavior and entering negotiation through friendliness versus an oppositional stance.”

It is unknown how the results might have differed for women if they had been affiliating with a male experimenter.

There was no support for the hypothesis that anger would boost men and women’s propensity to negotiate.

Words of Caution and Encouragement

UCLA researchers, however, say they are not ready to advocate scaring women as a way to boost their negotiation outcomes. The negotiation experiment, they note, induced fear by showing scary scenes from a movie prior to the negotiation experiment. Fear was not induced about the negotiation itself and it is unknown how that would impact women’s negotiation behavior.

“Rather, we take the current results as encouraging evidence that women are not doomed to underperform in negotiation,” according to the study. “Changing one’s motivational state from emotional experiences is just one way to fix the disparity between men and women.”

What Business Managers Can Do to Help Women

A Harvard Business Review story, Nice Girls Don’t Ask, written by Babcock, Laschever, Michele Gelfand and Deborah Small, provides tips for managers so they can better supervise and mentor women on asking for advantages and opportunities:

  • Tell women employees they must ask for what they want and need.
  • Inform female reports about the benefits of negotiating.
  • Give men and women comparable raises for comparable achievement.
  • Recognize that many women have a style that’s less assertive than men’s — and don’t leave them out because of it.
  • Monitor you and your company’s track record for advancing female employees.
  • Walk the talk: Create a workplace in which men and women are rewarded equally.

“Managers need to confront this problem,” the authors write. The authors urge the mentoring of women, especially in advising them of the benefits of asking for what they need to fulfill professional goals. “Our studies found that women respond immediately and powerfully to advising and rapidly begin to see the world as a much more negotiable place.”

In Your Shoes is created by Johnston & Murphy, offering quality shoes and outerwear for women and men. We welcome your comments and contributions.

2 Comments leave one →
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