The Negotiator Magazine

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And now, this month’s letter …

“Being Firm in Negotiation does not Mean You Have to be Tough”

From: Jackie (USA)

Dear Negotiator:

"There have been a lot of studies done on gender differences with men and women negotiating against each other and the consequences that female negotiators receive. Are there any consequences to men negotiating against men with their dominant personalities and power?"

Dear Jackie,

One of the things we've found is that sometimes people (both men and women!) can mistake toughness for effectiveness in a negotiation.

When the stakes are high, it's a natural reaction to think you have to get tough.  Yet being firm on your objectives does not necessarily entail tough tactics.   Prepared for a fight, the tough negotiator typically finds one as the process almost immediately lurches toward an adversarial content.  The negotiation deteriorates into a battle of wills, with parties digging in their heels and rejecting any possible points of compromise.   By a sleight of hand, toughness displaces effectiveness.  And the costs for women can be high.   Not only does a hard line chill communication; it often provokes retaliation.

Effective negotiators exhibit a wide range of personal styles.  How you say things in negotiations is as important often as what you say.  Firmness can be conveyed without drawing a line in the sand.  Needs can be communicated so that they are clear and yet not interpreted as ultimatums.

Thinking about five good reasons why the other person might not go along with your demands is a great way to keep the discussion on track because it enables you to hear the other party's needs. Being firm in standing up for your interests does not mean you have to be tough on the other person.

Deborah M. Kolb, Judith Williams and Carol Frohlinger are authors of the newly published Her Place at the Table: A Woman's Guide to Negotiating the Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success, Kolb, Williams and Frohlinger are principals in The Shadow Negotiation, LLC..  The company offers corporate training and seminars on negotiation and leadership specifically designed for women. Its website,, is the first of its kind to make negotiation courses for women available on-line.

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September 2004