As a woman CEO, I'm around men a lot. Three out of the four people who report directly to me are men, and my board is made up of men. I have a ton of testosterone around me including my very non-egocentric husband. I have to say all of it is superb, but then again, I'm lucky!
Sitting on the opposite side of the table doing deals with men who have huge egos is truly a different story for a woman. These men generally act as though they know everything, know more than a woman, and are surprised when a woman CEO or sales "gal" is sitting across the table attempting to negotiate. So what do we do? We laugh at their jokes and appear intoxicatingly interested at each and every story they tell. Then we walk out annoyed.
On the other hand, if we take the approach and become the guy's "equal," he's probably going to be on the defensive. He's thinking, "Wow, this 'chick' is actually smart, maybe smarter than I am, only I'll never let her know that." He's probably thinking we're into "women's rights" stuff. For all he knows after the meeting we're heading down to a women's rally to burn our bras.
Once I had to do a deal with a VP who had an enormous ego. I introduced myself along with my company's background. "Is this your company? You co-founded this company?" he kept asking with surprise. He then went on to tell me it was a cute little "widget" that we've developed, and he couldn't believe I actually built a company around it, completely belittling what we have accomplished.
The negotiations took forever, and over the course of a month I listened to how he played the "back nine" at Pebble Beach, how he "took it down" the craziest black diamond skiing, and how he pulled an all-nighter "with the boys" at a Vegas bachelor party (what happens in Vegas really should stay there I might add). I held my tongue; I couldn't imagine what he'd think if I told him I snowboarded last weekend, ran a half marathon and raised a new round of capital for my company. Instead I smiled and joked with him during the negotiations until, finally, we ended up doing the deal.
So here are a few things I thought about to help get me though the deal that might help you. There are kind of the equivalent to the clichÃ©d advice of imagining your audience in their underwear when speaking in public:
- I feel SO sorry for this guy's wife!
- Do you think he drives a 'Vette or a Porsche?
- I wonder if he'll ride his "hog" this weekend? Leather chaps do you think?
- Is that a hunk of steak between his teeth? I'm NOT telling him.
- Wow, stripes would have hidden those handles so much better.
If you're lucky enough and your business warrants it, you don't have to do the deal; you can feel really good about walking out of that meeting. But if he's the only game in town, you have a few options. I prefer to just suck it up and laugh. Send him some gold golf tees and a cigar box for the holidays, then put one of your employees on the account. However, if sucking it up isn't an option, here are some other ways to manage the situation:
- Keep the conversations strictly business. If the interference of the ego seems unbearable, keeping things tightly to an agenda helps keep awkward moments to a minimum. And rather than offending the guy by calling him on his behavior, you're able to conduct yourself and your business while only risking coming off as a bit boring.
- Delegate. The same way you'd bring in a specialist or consultant for particular niche segments of your business, bring in one of the non-egocentric males from your team to play buffer in the situation. You get along with him, and he respects your expertise, and it he will set a good example for the person with whom you are in negotiations.
- Team up. If the business dealings require a lot of out-of-office contact, invite partners (in business or life) along to minimize disconnect between the successful woman and the egomaniac who's threatened by her.
- Divide and conquer. Use the unsupportable behavior as an "opportunity" for someone you're training to learn the ins and outs of dealing with less-than-desirable individuals.
It's inevitable you'll run into an egomaniac at some point in your business life. Remember, it's highly unlikely you'll be able to change his behavior. Whether you laugh it off or delegate it, the situation -- and the success of the deal -- mostly depends on you and how you approach the getting the deal signed.