The Negotiator Magazine

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Women do not feel as comfortable in overtly competitive situations as their male colleagues. This factor may explain why a greater percentage of women (39%) take my Legal Negotiation course, in which final grades are influenced by performance on bargaining exercises, on a credit/no-credit basis than men (27%). Many women are apprehensive regarding the negative consequences they associate with competitive achievement, fearing that competitive success will alienate them from others. Males in my Legal Negotiation course tend to be more accepting of extreme results obtained by other men than by such results achieved by women. Even female students tend to be more critical of women who attain exceptional results than they are of men who do so. A number of males have privately admitted to me that they are also fearful of “losing” to female opponents, preferring the risk of non-settlements than the embarrassment of being defeated by women.

Males tend to exude more confidence than women in performance-oriented settings. Even when minimally prepared, men think they can “wing it” and get through successfully. On the other hand, no matter how thoroughly prepared women are, they tend to feel unprepared. I have often observed this difference among my Legal Negotiation students. Successful males think they can achieve beneficial results in future settings, while successful females continue to express doubts about their own capabilities. I find this frustrating, because the accomplished women are as proficient as their accomplished male cohorts.

Male and female self-confidence is influenced by the stereotypical ways in which others evaluate their performances. When men are successful, their performance tends to be attributed to intrinsic factors such as hard work and intelligence; when women are successful, their performance is likely to be attributed to extrinsic factors such as luck or the assistance of others. This factor causes male success to be overvalued, and female success to be undervalued.

Gender-based competitive differences may be attributable to the different acculturation process for boys and girls. Parents tend to be more protective of their daughters than their sons. Most boys are exposed to competitive situations at an early age. They have been encouraged to participate in little league baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and other competitive athletic endeavors. These activities introduce boys to the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” during their formative years. “Traditional girls’ games like jump rope and hopscotch are turn-taking games, where competition is indirect since one person’s success does not necessarily signify another’s failure.” While it is true that little league and interscholastic sports for women have become more competitive in recent years, most continue to be less overtly competitive than corresponding male athletic endeavors. (Gail Evans, Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman 80 (2000)).

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