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Difficult Woman

Published: May 11 , 2017
Author: Annabel Shorter

Last week Theresa May declared herself that she will be "a bloody difficult woman" in a warning to Jean-Claude Juncker regarding her likely stance in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

We are told that this was a criticism levelled at her by Ken Clarke some time ago. However, she said this with a degree of a pride, and I have my suspicions that she may well be right to be so.

The issue of gender in negotiation is a fascinating one. Some time ago I was working with a prestigious, blue-chip organisation, training their buyers to improve their negotiating skills. They doubtless have in place all of the correct policies on diversity and social responsibility and I know that they are vehemently protective of their reputation.

I had set six of the participants a challenge to negotiate around a particular conflict. Inadvertently the two teams of three were all-male and all-female. They negotiated for a while and then the male team called for an adjournment when it became apparent that they were not making progress in pursuit of their goal. A good idea, I thought.

Now if you have been on one of our courses then you will know that we use video equipment to capture the action, yet we don’t typically listen in to that adjournment time. On this occasion I turned up the sound to judge whether they were close to restarting. As I did so I heard one of the male voices saying, in an attempt to advise his team, "so then, we just keep hammering, and hammering and hammering her!"

I couldn’t help but wonder whether this plan would have been the one chosen had there been a burly rugby player leading for the opposition?

"Unconscious bias" is a factor in negotiating and as much as in daily life. At Scotwork we are not experts in this matter. However, we do have some pretty good advice for negotiators and I am delighted to say that the leader for the all-female team was more than a match for this blunt instrument of a strategy.

She stayed calm, she knew what she wanted, she asked questions, she outlined her position and she met their ever-more persistent rhetoric with realistic, credible proposals. I have my suspicion that like the UK’s Prime Minister, this would have her classified as ‘a bloody difficult woman’.

On June 22nd I will be leading a Women in Negotiation webinar discussing the issue of gender in negotiations and offering some advice as to how it is possible to handle "unconscious bias", aggressive behaviour and set about getting more of what you want.

Places are free but limited to 200 so please arrange your spot today:


Annabel Shorter

About the author:

Annabel Shorter
A Politics and History graduate, I began in a Sales role for Castrol! I went on to become Trade Marketing Manager for Levi Strauss in the UK, exposing me to numerous and continuous negotiations with clients, staff and stakeholders. I went on Sales/Marketing roles in the telecoms industry, notably Cable and Wireless and Virgin Mobile.

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