Scientists Share The One Trick Women Can Use To Become Better Negotiators

If you’re a woman who’s experienced difficulties negotiating in the workplace, here’s some good and bad news: you’re very much not alone. 

Alongside stats that suggest 20% of women never negotiate at all, it also appears outcomes for us are worse when we do speak up.

“Women who asked obtained a raise 15% of the time, while men obtained a pay increase 20% of the time,” says the Harvard Business Review.

As Stanford says, “Negotiation is a consequential activity that can exacerbate power differentials, especially for women.“

But thankfully, their study revealed that sometimes, levelling up your negotiation game really can be a walk in the park (well, sort of).

What were they researching? 

Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Margaret Neale (along with six other co-authors) studied the effects of outdoor walking on participants’ negotiation skills.

She put 160 participants into same-sex pairs and trialled simulated job offer negotiations in both sitting and walking conditions.

“We look at the potential impact of moving the negotiation, historically researched seated, facing each other, in an office environment, to walking together on an outdoor path, with both parties on equal footing,” Neale says.

The participants were then given a ten-minute survey asking how they felt the negotiations went and how they viewed their partner. Both the ‘applicant’ and the ‘interviewer’ were also asked to agree on pay-offs.

The bigger the difference between the two parties’ idea of a fair deal, the lower the participants ‘scored’ on negotiation outcomes.

OK. And? 

The results were better for women, but walking seemed to have worse outcomes for men.

“While Neale’s team had expected walking to positively affect all participants regardless of gender, they were surprised at the results for men. Men who walked had less equitable results in their negotiations and reported more negative emotions than men who sat,” said Insights by Stanford Business School.

They also found that both men and women liked each other more when negotiating outdoors, and that men trusted each other more generally – “Walking was associated with mutual liking independent of gender, while gender (men) was associated with more positive emotion and mutual trust (compared to women) independent of walking.”

Why is walking so great for women’s negotiation skills?

Neale and her team have a few theories.

One reason is that women might feel uncomfortable in hierarchical, stereotypically ‘male’ settings.

“Walking together provided an informal context,” Neale says. “This stands in contrast to the competitiveness and power differences that are typically associated with negotiation performance, stereotypical male behavior, and the more formal contexts (e.g. seated in a boardroom, one person across a desk from the other) where they take place.”

Neale adds that the social nature of walking together could help women reach more equitable outcomes – “walking created a more cooperative milieu, as walking together is a synchronous activity,” she says.

“The psychological impact of walking for women was perhaps the most important result,” Neale adds.

“Women tend to have more negative feelings about negotiating than men,” she says. “Our current study showed men felt more positive in both negotiation conditions. To the degree that negative emotions compete with cognitive resources needed for successful negotiations, walking together may provide a simple solution for women levelling the psychological playing field.“

In other words, men are more comfortable with negotiating than women from the get-go – so why not take extra (literal) steps to make women feel at ease early on?

Speaking of – why did men do worse?

Neale and her team think that for men, the negotiation score – i.e., how willing both parties were to agree with and cooperate with one another – could have decreased because men might perceive walking together as a race (yes, really).

“One possibility is that walking together for women motivates a cooperative mindset but walking together for men feels more novel, or may create greater vigilance and more competitiveness,” she says.

She also wonders if “walking speed... may be faster in more competitive negotiations”, and suggests future studies explore this further.

In the meantime, ladies – let’s get our walking shoes on.