So I have taken a week to think about how to blog about a session that I saw last weekend at the ABA Conference. The session was about using movies to demonstrate gender differences in negotiation and I went to see what teaching tools might be provided. I was on the negotiation program track for the ABA, and had helped select this session for presentation at the conference, so I was really looking forward to it. Instead, the session became a very good example of the challenges in teaching about gender differences in negotiation.
The session started out with slides that listed how women communicate or how women negotiate. I think, in retrospect, that the speakers may have been trying to highlight some of the stereotypes about women from the 1970’s and ask whether these were still relevant but– without any introduction to what they planned to do, cites to the outdated research, or other signposting, –it appeared that the speakers were presenting these comments as current and true (even if that was not their intention). When asked what research this was based on, the speakers stated that “this is what the research shows. ” As some in the audience continued to challenge further assertions about the research, the tone went downhill and unfortunately, rather than becoming a learning experience, became more of an argument, which continued even after the session. All this, of course, at a dispute resolution conference.
I wanted to unpack a few key things from this session. First, as presenters, academics and scholars, it is incumbent upon each of us to know the research in any given area on which we speak. One of the frustrations was that the presenters referred to “research” without differentiating where, what, how and by whom the research was done. (I think it was taken primarily from an ADR textbook that they use though I have not confirmed this.) So, below, I am linking to a batch of the latest research on gender in negotiation.
My second point is linked to the first. Like many presentations, this one presented a mix of research that applies to lawyers or has been done on professionals versus research done on girls. For example, Carol Gilligan’s work on 10 year olds is interesting (and important and ground-breaking) AND not as relevant in terms of giving advice to adults. If we are teaching in law schools (or presenting at law conferences) with our goal being to give good negotiation advice to all of our students and generally have a very limited amount of time to talk about differences–racial, gender, ethnic, cultural, etc.–we need to make sure that our advice is pointed and useful. If we start our courses, our textbooks, or our presentations with outdated and offensive stereotypes, we risk that the inaccurate message is the only one heard. We end up spending the rest of our advice, or readings, or lecture then digging ourselves out of the hole we have created. I, for one, am done teaching Carol Gilligan as a start, then Carrie Menkel-Meadow’s response (to start digging out of the hole), then other pieces, and then, finally, my research and Charlie Craver’s showing no differences.
Enough. Let’s start with the good news–as lawyers representing clients, men negotiate just as effectively as women; and focus on the exceptions and key questions–what can each gender learn from each other in terms of tendencies? when do women face backlash? what are gendered contexts that make negotiation more difficult? what are the most effective strategies to avoid this? This is not to say that there are no gender differences or that, magically, stereotypes have disappeared. This is, however, a call to focus on what matters most for the future lawyers we teach.
Finally, ironically, one of the pieces of advice that the presenters gave–asking a potentially sexist counterpart if he held stereotypes about women negotiating–may have come from a misunderstanding of my own work (can’t make this up!) Let me clarify–my 1994 article “Effective Responses to Offensive Comments” outlines a framework for how to respond (linked here). When facing a comment that might be offensive, first the the receiver should think about her/his own assumptions and then contemplate how to respond. Second, your choices to respond are ignore, confront, deflect or engage. In engaging, the recipient of the comment might ask why someone said something–“why did you ask me if I am the only one representing this client?”, for example. I would not, and have never suggested, that anyone open up a negotiation by fishing for someone’s biases–rather the choices of responses are tools to respond, not to assert.
As promised, here are some links to updated gender research–in addition to my articles on which I have blogged before, there is a host of good research coming from Hannah Riley Bowles, Kathleen McGinn, Linda Babcock, Cathy Tinsley and, of course, Debbie Kolb. An SSRN search on any of them will give you a host of good articles. Here are just a few to get started: (the first two are co-authored with me, Emily Amantullah, and Sandy Cheldelin)
Kolb, 25 Years of Gender Research (Negotiation Journal, October 09) (not on SSRN, need to find through Neg J. website)