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 clichéd advice of imagining your audience in their underwear when speaking in public:
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:
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.