Bullish: What Men Need to Know About Negotiating With Women

Jennifer Dziura writes Bullish, a career column, for The Grindstone on Fridays and Bullish Life, a life coaching column, for our sister site TheGloss on Tuesdays.

That headline is not a typo.

There are lots of books out there intended to help women negotiate with men, by being like men or at least understanding them.

But some nonzero number of men out there could use advice on negotiating with women. I can help.

As I wrote in Bullish Life: Towards A Monstrous Regiment of Women, women now control a few industries, and plenty of (mostly small and medium) companies, and countless departments and small pockets of larger companies. If you wanted to for some reason, you could make an entire career out of dealing only with women.

Women probably don’t dominate the board of directors at your company, but most people don’t report to the board of directors. Most people report to a middle manager.

Whether it’s a man with a female boss, or a man who doesn’t understand why his female peers or subordinates don’t seem to like him (just because we didn’t publicly call you out or punch you doesn’t mean we didn’t want to!), I think men bumping into gender issues is probably now a thing.

Even if you’re a man and all the women in your company are in subordinate positions, I still think that if half the office secretly hates you, you’re a bad leader.

Feel free to send a link to this article to dudes. Here goes.

A brief anecdote about exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about

When I was running an internet marketing firm around 2002, I met with a duo of male entrepreneurs for the purpose of founding a joint project – a portal for the boating industry, henceforth to be called WebBoats.

The idea was that my company would make the website, and these guys – being pretty big in the boating industry – would sell advertising on the site. It kind of seemed like I’d be doing most of the work.

They began the meeting: “We’d like you to make the website and do this list of six other things. We think you should own 25% of the company.”

I said, “Well, that’s not going to work for me. But there are a lot of ways we could play this. Right now, you’re asking me to do 75% of the work, so, in that case, I would want 75% of the company. Or, if you only want me to do 25% of the work, then I’ll own 25% of the company. I’m flexible. There are variety of fair arrangements we could make.”

They said, somewhat sheepishly: “Well, we had to try!”

As in, “Our testicles would have shrunk if we didn’t try to cheat you into being our virtual slave! Now let’s be friends!”

We did not continue to be friends. The project fizzled. I’m not some boy you can beat up on the playground and then continue to be emotionally-repressed friends with, kind of like in Bachelor Party II (I didn’t see the movie; I’m just assuming). I don’t work that way. If you try to cheat me, you have irreparably damaged our relationship.

That was ten years ago. In more recent years, I was working for a large company, billing $x an hour. The guy who managed the budget emailed me – I had just billed 46 hours in a single week. How many more hours would I be billing? Could I cut that down? That’s really kind of a lot of hours.

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    • Lastango

      You’re certainly right — there are many people who try to take unfair advantage. One of the most common techniques is for the customer to agree up front, then withhold payment. They then argue some thin technicality, and try to get you to take less. Any provider who smells this coming should ask for payment up front, or insist on frequent, small installments. That way, the most you can be screwed out of is the last check. It’s not a bad idea to subtly hold something back until that last payment is in hand.
      ==========
      I got even with an exploiter once. I had some legal work done, on a flat-fee quote. The lawyer agreed to advise in advance if more work was required. Later, we got an extra invoice claiming additional complexity and costs. I rejected that in writing, and deliberately sent a copy to the law firm’s VP finance, and to someone else. (He had chattered up front about complexity, but I told him no additional filings would be necessary. I was right, and he had clearly been off-track. I don’t think he liked that much.) Not long after I got an agitated phonecall from the lawyer retracting the invoice and saying that, in the future, we ought to keep our disputes between the two of us. I surmised that he was coming to period end below billing targets, and was screwing customers to make up the difference.
      ==========
      I must say, though, I don’t agree at all that this has anything to do with women and men. Unfair, deceptive negotiating and post-facto cheating seem to come from anywhere, and be directed at anyone. In my experience, women are no more likely to be the targets than men, and no less likely to be the perpetrators.
      ==========
      I like the way you put it: “old-school-dicking-around-for-sport”. Being able to screw others over is ego-boosting for some people. We see that most clearly when the money involved is inconsequential. They want to feel like you have to come to them hat in hand. that puts them up and you down. I agree totally that strength is the best preemption and the best defense. I too view these cheaters as crummy little people.

    • Lastango

      You’re certainly right — there are many people who try to take unfair advantage. One of the most common techniques is for the customer to agree up front, then withhold payment. They then argue some thin technicality, and try to get you to take less. Any provider who smells this coming should ask for payment up front, or insist on frequent, small installments. That way, the most you can be screwed out of is the last check. It’s not a bad idea to subtly hold something back until that last payment is in hand.
      ==========
      I got even with an exploiter once. I had some legal work done, on a flat-fee quote. The lawyer agreed to advise in advance if more work was required. Later, we got an extra invoice claiming additional complexity and costs. I rejected that in writing, and deliberately sent a copy to the law firm’s VP finance, and to someone else. (He had chattered up front about complexity, but I told him no additional filings would be necessary. I was right, and he had clearly been off-track. I don’t think he liked that much.) Not long after I got an agitated phonecall from the lawyer retracting the invoice and saying that, in the future, we ought to keep our disputes between the two of us. I surmised that he was coming to period end below billing targets, and was screwing customers to make up the difference.
      ==========
      I must say, though, I don’t agree at all that this has anything to do with women and men. Unfair, deceptive negotiating and post-facto cheating seem to come from anywhere, and be directed at anyone. In my experience, women are no more likely to be the targets than men, and no less likely to be the perpetrators.
      ==========
      I like the way you put it: “old-school-dicking-around-for-sport”. Being able to screw others over is ego-boosting for some people. We see that most clearly when the money involved is inconsequential. They want to feel like you have to come to them hat in hand. that puts them up and you down. I agree totally that strength is the best preemption and the best defense. I too view these cheaters as crummy little people.

    • K

      Oh yeah, asshole negotiations! I’ve been told it’s “the game”. Well, if this is the game, I’m not playing!

    • K

      Oh yeah, asshole negotiations! I’ve been told it’s “the game”. Well, if this is the game, I’m not playing!

    • j.o.jeppson

      I dislike most of the career/negotiating books that are geared towards women—especially the “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” subgenre, which helpfully suggest a million little things that you *might* be doing wrong and end up gutting your self-confidence in the process.

      Even my favorite ladybusiness book, “Ask for it,” sometimes spends a little too much time trying to anticipate all the possible insecurities or sexist bosses a lady negotiator might encounter… I came away from the book with a better understanding of non-dickish negotiating strategies and tactics, sure, but I also now have a nice long list of things that _hadn’t even occurred to me_ to be self conscious about, but can now be added to my list of needless worries. (It reminded me of the photographer for my senior photos who started out the session by telling me, “Don’t worry about your nose.” I had previously considered it one of my best features. OH WELL.)

    • j.o.jeppson

      I dislike most of the career/negotiating books that are geared towards women—especially the “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” subgenre, which helpfully suggest a million little things that you *might* be doing wrong and end up gutting your self-confidence in the process.

      Even my favorite ladybusiness book, “Ask for it,” sometimes spends a little too much time trying to anticipate all the possible insecurities or sexist bosses a lady negotiator might encounter… I came away from the book with a better understanding of non-dickish negotiating strategies and tactics, sure, but I also now have a nice long list of things that _hadn’t even occurred to me_ to be self conscious about, but can now be added to my list of needless worries. (It reminded me of the photographer for my senior photos who started out the session by telling me, “Don’t worry about your nose.” I had previously considered it one of my best features. OH WELL.)

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    • T

      Nothing I heard in this article is a gender issue, unless the author specifically applied it as such. We all need to adapt to our particular business environments because we all bring different personalities to the table. Get over it = success.

    • T

      Nothing I heard in this article is a gender issue, unless the author specifically applied it as such. We all need to adapt to our particular business environments because we all bring different personalities to the table. Get over it = success.

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    • http://BikePretty.com/ Bike Pretty

      I have been through this exact issue. At the time, I didn’t see it in a gendered way, despite it being between me (a lady) and a male person.

      I was just so confused as to why this person was low-balling me so tenaciously. Even though the project was on track to be under-budget and payment was already being a month late.

      Obviously it still makes me angry. Finally this article gives me some context for the anger, and I am very, very grateful.

      And yeah, this male person will be remembered a giant sleazy jerkface forever and ever.

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