As business owners, some days it may seem as if we spend all of our time negotiating. There are suppliers to manage, employees to satisfy, funding to pursue, alliances to build. In the classic book Getting to Yes, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury offer useful advice for successfully navigating through conflicts; they suggest strategies such as separating the people from the problem, focusing on interests rather than positions, and using objective criteria as a basis for discussions. This approach works well, and we can use many of these practical ideas in our day-to-day dealings.

We think, however, women possess several unique skills and talents that can give us a negotiating edge. Before starting her business, Pamela spent many years doing international joint venture partnerships for large entertainment companies. More often than not she was the only woman at the table, and her partners would sometimes comment that it was the first time they'd encountered a woman leading venture discussions. Despite the occasional downside, Pamela discovered that being female could oftentimes be used to her benefit. As a woman, she could draw upon qualities that her male colleagues didn't possess. This gave her an advantage that helped her to craft more successful deals. Here are some of the things she learned:

  1. Women put aside their egos much easier than men.

    Pamela observed that sometimes her male colleagues were driven more by ego than business interests, which often left them vulnerable during negotiations. She once worked on a European deal where the president of her division insisted that a complex joint venture agreement be drafted and signed within six weeks. Did he urgently want to close the contract in order to hit the quarterly numbers? No. What he sought were bragging rights: He was leaving the company and wanted to claim the deal as a feather in his cap. The ensuing rush required her firm to make critical compromises on deal points that could have negatively impacted the division's bottom line.

    Pamela noticed, however, that it was a lot easier for her to sacrifice her ego; this put her in a more strategic position and allowed her to keep her eye on her ultimate goal: negotiating a profitable venture. She put aside her dismay about doing a bad deal and got the contract signed, as requested. Several months later however--after the president had left--she reopened discussions. Although she wasn't able to undo all the previous concessions, she turned a potential loss into a profitable deal by negotiating a new million-dollar licensing fee.

  2. Women focus more on building relationships.

    In an earlier column we talked about how, as women we have a naturally intuitive way of building relationships with others. Pamela noticed that using her relationship skills helped her to cultivate venture partners; she was able to foster an atmosphere of trust that made it easier to navigate contentious contract terms. She also found that many times her relationships allowed her to win difficult deal points; her partners were more apt to accede to her requests because they were personally invested in maintaining a positive connection.

  3. Women are used to balancing diverse agendas.

    Even when there are only two people participating, negotiations generally contain many agendas. Each individual brings a personal agenda. When they are negotiating on behalf of their respective businesses, each firm has a separate agenda. There may be other advisors involved such as attorneys and accountants, who also bring different agendas. Women have a natural ability to balance multiple, often-conflicting interests. We use this talent at home to navigate the demands of our families. During contract negotiations, Pamela tapped into this skill to pull together solutions that satisfied the different constituencies. When she re-signed the European contract, the lead attorney for her firm--a man--marveled that despite a plethora of competing agendas, the deal had somehow gotten done.

  4. Put simply, women are women.

    It may be controversial to admit, but sometimes the very fact that we're women can provide an advantage--especially when dealing with men. Pamela noticed that her venture partners often found the very fact of negotiating with a woman to be a welcome diversion from the usual male deal jockeying; as a result, they tended to relax. She also realized that they found her less threatening, so she used this perception to win deal points that her partners would never have given to another man. In rare instances when a woman led the talks for the other side, Pamela was able to forge a bond due to the uniqueness of the situation. In either case, Pamela learned that the very fact of being a woman was something that she could actively use to smooth negotiations.

When Pamela started her own company, she realized that she could draw upon these same talents to help build her business. The takeaway lesson for all of us is this: No matter who's across the table--venture partner, potential funder, employee or supplier--using our natural female skills when negotiating can give us an edge for success.

What strategies have you found to be helpful in negotiations? Write us at and let us know!