Why Women Should Negotiate with Their Friends

Victoria Pynchon
Why Women Should Negotiate with Their Friends

I've said before that men turn their friendships into business opportunities and women turn their business opportunities into friendships.

Nothing wrong with either of those predilections except one thing.

Most women don't like negotiating with their friends!

And that's bad for all of us in light of research that shows pairs of friends achieve higher joint gains in simulated negotiations than either married couples or pairs of strangers.

The research, recently highlighted by the geniuses at Harvard's Program on Negotiation, showed that

negotiating friends and couples have an edge over strangers by virtue of their knowledge of the other side’s preferences. Yet couples may be so averse to conflict that they are less successful than friends at capitalizing on differences.

Party Preferences are Among the Interests Used by Integrative Bargainers to Increase Mutual Gains

As followers of this blog know, we at She Negotiates recommend that our students engage in collaborative interest-based negotiation even though we also teach competitive distributive bargaining tactics ala Ari Gold because those expanded negotiation "pies" will still have to be divided at day's end.

Friends know one another's preferences. I'd rather spend a day walking on a local beach than jet off to Vegas and check into the Ballagio. My friend Anne knows that. I know she'd rather spend a day with me at her favorite spa (Bliss at the W in Hollywood) than blow $1800 on this Gucci bag that I know she's been eyeing at Barneys.

Because Anne and I simply know these preferences, we won't do what girlfriends too often do - out-accomodate one another

Sure, the spa would be nice but let's do what you want to do.

No no, it's your day, let's go to the spa instead of the beach.

Or worse, we'll do something neither of us wants to do - drive to Vegas and stay at the Tropicana.

Knowing one another's preferences permits us to maximize benefits for both of us. I know a little shop where I can get pre-owned designer bags for a fraction of their retail price. It's Anne's birthday and I want to surprise her with both a spa day and a tangible present. It's her 60th after all.

How about the W spa day for your 60th?

That would be great, but why don't we do it at the beach so we can take a walk beforehand.

Win win.

But Why Not Married Couples?

You'll notice that Anne and I, knowing each other's preferences, have a negotiated outcome that is better than a compromise. The spa at Shutters is every bit as nice as the one at the W, so Anne doesn't lose anything by accommodating my preference for a walk on the beach. And frankly, both of us would be happy sitting on a mound of dirt in a deserted parking lot talking ourselves breathless anyway. So a walk on the beach satisfies her preference for talking long and deep and my preference for a little beach/exercise time.

But what if Anne hated the beach, loathed it. Then she'd be compromising, right? And the outcome wouldn't be so optimal.

That's what the researchers tell us that married couples do. As the article at Harvard PON explains,

[C]ouples may not mind missing out on these gains, due to the high value they place on “symbolic outcomes”–the messages negotiators send each other about the relationship through their actions. When a husband forgoes the movie he would like to see in favor of his wife’s choice, she receives not only the pleasure of seeing her preferred film but also the knowledge that her husband will sometimes put her desires before his. In close relationships, such reciprocal concessions, whether minor or major, can be invaluable.

Friends Live in the Negotiation Goldilocks Zone

If negotiations with friends result in outcomes that are not too big and not too little but just right - that means their bargained-for outcomes are in the Goldilocks Zone. Why would we not negotiate with them? If you're a lawyer and have a friend in business, why would you not want her to get the best legal advice at the most reasonable price possible and why would she not want to give you her business because she knows you're going to make her look good.

The research on friends negotiating gives us an extra incentive to be of benefit to our friends in business.  You already know the good, the bad and the ugly about your friend's workplace issues. You know just what outcome she needs at just what price. You know the ways in which she needs to look good to obtain the promotion she's been angling for since last summer. She knows that your book of business needs enlarging if you are to achieve your goal of making equity partner next year. She also knows that you need to be getting the type of work from the type of company she has available - a copyright action brought by and against two Fortune 50 companies.

The women we teach fear negotiating with friends because they believe they'll be too nice and suffer harm in their business or too grudging and suffer harm in their friendship. This, however, is not a business problem but a conflict resolution issue.

If you can't be honest with your best friend, the friendship needs work. And if you'd sell a friend out for a few extra dollars, your soul needs tending. If you're worried for those reasons, it's time you start practicing more integrity with people close enough to you that you can try and fail, apologize and make amends and learn something extremely valuable in the process.

So bring a friend to our June 30 Santa Barbara Leadership Retreat with keynote speaker Gloria Feldt. We'll supercharge your business, help you create a strategic career plan, and give you our special friend rate here.