Negotiation Theory Through the Looking Glass of Gender




Kolb, Deborah

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School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution


There are a number of ways to investigate gender in the context of negotiations. Many have looked at similarities and differences between men and women when they negotiate (See Kolb and Coolidge, 1991; Lewicki, Minton, and Saunders, 1994). The intent here is different. Following contemporary feminist critique in the social sciences and humanities generally, and the organizational field specifically, we consider how emerging theory of negotiation analysis and the psychology of bargaining, seemingly neutral and natural, is gendered (Calas and Smircich, 1990; Martin, 1990; Mumby and Putnam, 1992). We will argue that negotiation analysis is gendered in that it sustains and reinforces dichotomous thinking in which masculine attributes dominate those associated with the feminine (Flax, 1990), because it also fails to consider how the material conditions of different negotiators shape their understandings of negotiation and abilities to participate (Ferguson, 1984), and because its dominance closes out other potential ways of conceptualizing and acting in negotiation. Our argument takes the following form. First, we identify three assumptions inherent in the dominant discourse that have gender implications. These are existing conceptions of negotiator agency, bargaining power as a function of alternatives to an agreement, and a split between rational and emotional processes. Second, we suggest that negotiators who are different along these dimensions come to be seen, and/or experience themselves as different and often disadvantaged. Third, both from a theoretical and practical perspective, the discourse has the effect of rendering invisible and unimportant a wider set of strategic practices than are generally considered in the negotiation analysis framework. Looking at negotiation through a lens of gender helps us recover and revise negotiator agency as a performative activity, empowerment as an ongoing process, and a formulation of emotion as basic to intersubjective meaning construction.