“I sometimes have to negotiate with older sexist men who make inappropriate comments and use tactics they would never use with men my age,” a bright young female lawyer told me recently. “What should I do?”
1. If truly offensive – demand they stop
If the sexist comments are truly offensive and make you extremely uncomfortable, firmly and professionally point them out and request or demand that they stop. At the end of the day, you deserve a sexist-free environment in which to engage.
And if your counterpart is a lawyer and they don’t stop, the legal rules of professional conduct give you a mechanism to enforce appropriate behavior.
2. Use their attitude to get information
If their comments, however, are just annoying and/or mildly offensive – use their sexist attitude against them. How?
It’s likely your sexist counterpart is substantially underestimating your abilities due solely to your gender and age. By doing so, they’re not thinking carefully about what they say and what information they share. Frankly, they probably don’t think you know what to do with it.
Use their attitude to get important information. Ask them lots of questions, especially open-ended ones like what, how, why, tell me about, describe and explain. Then, once you have the information, use it strategically.
They may never know what hit them – and they certainly won’t see it coming.
I know an extremely skilled and intelligent negotiator who also happens to have grown up on a farm in Iowa. He uses a variation of this same technique, Columbo-like, and succeeds in many negotiations when his counterparts greatly underestimate him. After all, they think, a farm boy couldn’t possibly know all about those sophisticated transactions. Boy, are they wrong!
3. Experience does not equal expertise – so do your homework
Just because your counterparts may have been negotiating for years does not mean they are doing it well. And it certainly does not mean they are negotiating strategically based on the expert’s proven research.
You thus need to do your homework. And you need to do your homework on both the substantive issues involved and on the negotiation process. In other words, learn from the experts how to strategically negotiate.
Then your negotiation strategies will be based on recent research and on what the experts have learned from studying top negotiators throughout history. (A good place to start, of course, is with these columns online).
4. Remember your leverage
Finally, remember that your counterpart’s attitude – no matter how offensive – does not change your leverage. If you (or your client if it’s a legal negotiation) have a good alternative to a deal with them – your Plan B – then you have strong leverage.
Strong leverage means you can walk away if you want, a strong tactic that might cause your counterpart to reconsider how they deal with you.
Published June 8, 2014 The Arizona Republic