Women deal with conflict differently than men

The Program on Negotiation (PON) at Harvard University has just devoted an entire volume of its Negotiation Journal to gender in negotiations. This article explores how women respond when involved in a conflict and is the final article in a trilogy. Primary and secondary research that I conducted is included in this article.

Five components are involved in resolving a conflict. These are measured by the Conflict Strategies Inventory, developed by HRDQ in King of Prussia, Pa. They are: integrating, compromising, competing, smoothing and avoiding.

Integrating, the ability to meet the needs of both parties, shows no significant difference between the genders. According to Eileen Russo and Matthew Eckler at HRDQ, both genders equally prefer to work with the other party to the conflict to determine the best possible solution.

Also, no significant difference is found in compromising, except that males have a greater variance in their responses. The smaller female standard deviation indicates a high level of agreement that every issue has room for negotiation. Compromising involves controlling the negotiation’s outcome to achieve the least amount of loss, in other words a form of damage control. Recent research reported in Harvard’s Negotiation Journal indicates that women are more likely to choose equal distributions. This is indicative of the fact that women are more concerned with fairness then men.

The results of our research show that males are more competitive than females. Males scored 25 percent more competitive than the female counterparts. In the first article, we stated that men are more concerned with the results. If a women plays hardball, when they are expected to play fair, the potential of not achieving their desired results and not retaining the relationship increases. 

Smoothing involves giving in to the other party while ignoring one’s own needs. We found an almost 20-percent difference with females vs. males. The data indicates that women are more apt to try to smooth over the situation in order to maintain harmony. One must realize that smoothing is a temporary fix and not a long-term solution. Research reported in Harvard’s Negotiation Journal indicates that women are more likely to chose equal distributions, even if the cost of doing so increases.

The avoiding component, also known as withdrawing, indicates that women will feel intimidated when faced with conflict and leave the situation. Women outscored men by 30 percent on this component. In her article,  “What’s your conflict style? Tips for getting better results,” Salma Shah stated that some people simply hate difficult conversations and will do anything to avoid facing the issue. Shah’s observations are reinforced by responses from my graduate classes and training sessions.

Based on the data collected from HRDQ’s Communication Style Profile, women are more apt to display emotions in their communications, while men do a better job of controlling their emotions. As was discussed in the second article in the series, women ask, men tell and are more direct with their communications while women are more spirited and require more detailed response to their questions.

You need to deal with the emotional component of a conflict before you can deal with the factual component. All conflict starts with a dispute, and if left unattended, it will become a conflict. Once a dispute morphs into a conflict, it will require more time and resources to resolve. You need to deal with conflict when it arises and not ignore it. Shah suggests, “You can’t change others, only yourself.”

Investing energy in changing how you respond to conflict will pay immediate dividends. Accepting the fact that you cannot change others releases the energy you need to better yourself and the end result.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display