The power of language

Women are perceived and judged differently than men in difficult conversations and negotiations. Communication and negotiation techniques are more relevant than ever for female executives: female managers and doctors in leading positions who can communicate and negotiate their concerns well have a decisive advantage.


  • Traditional role models and role expectations still exist, even if implicitly.
  • Pay attention to perspective: put the big picture in the foreground.
  • Balance momentary emotions against medium and long term goals.
  • Preparation is everything: Train specifically to deal with difficult situations.

We are constantly busy influencing others. We are constantly striving to make others act as we would like them to act. And for a good reason: we can't help but influence other people, just as other people can't help but influence us. This applies to both men and women. This is called communication.

Women who want to succeed in business must be good communicators and negotiators. Conversely, professionally competent women who are good negotiators are almost always successful at work and achieve their career goals more quickly. Effective communication and negotiation need tools that work. These are not necessarily the same for men and women.

Experience in coaching women executives shows: The concerns with which women in high positions come to their coaches are very similar. These are recurring questions that my clients are looking for answers to. Often they are concerned with how to behave in emotionally charged situations. They want to know what they can do to be perceived positively and respected by other participants in the conversation and negotiation, even in tense situations. Ultimately, they want to increase their success in complex conversational situations.

Women have a different effect than men

The wording is the same, the gestures similar, the tone almost the same. Nevertheless, a woman is perceived differently than a man, even if she says or does the same things as he does. This phenomenon has many causes, they lie in socialization, family, education, literature, film and television.


The power of language


A few basic rules can make negotiations more effective for female executives

Women are still associated with traditional role expectations. Even if this is often only implicitly the case: it is less and less pronounced, but still judged by it. Due to the strong traditional anchoring of these ideas, they are slow to change.

Bound to traditional behavior patterns

The problem is reflected in many practical situations. When women act with self-confidence and power, they use traditionally male behavior patterns. Often they do not do themselves any good by doing so; on the contrary, they have to accept social costs for it.

Because women, who appear particularly determined, make clear demands, take up a lot of speaking time or even become loud, are judged less favorably than their male colleagues. Controversial and power-conscious women must always reckon with social rejection. Colleagues give them the cold shoulder, ignore them, whisper behind their backs.

Traditional role models are stubborn in their longevity. Due to the strong entrenchment of these ideas, they cannot be changed as quickly as modern social policy demands. Many female executives instinctively fear this problem and withdraw from the outset. They communicate and negotiate with particular caution and reserve. But this also means that they ultimately demand less and are left behind in career and salary negotiations, for example.

Those who are aware of this social dynamic can take advantage of it and proactively turn the perceived disadvantage into an advantage. To do this, it is worthwhile to keep in mind a few tips, which are explained below.

Focus on the big picture

Female executives should, whenever they can, not present their wishes and demands on the surface as something whose fulfillment will benefit them personally. To achieve their conversational goal, they should rather try to emphasize the benefit of their demand to a larger whole, such as the institute, department, or organization they work for.

Pay attention to the perspective

If female managers succeed in negotiating on behalf of others or explicitly on behalf of others, they are – as old-fashioned as this may sound – conforming to positive role cliches and not damaging the implicit role expectations placed on them. The experience of many female customers shows: As a result, they receive more support and approval than when they present their concerns exclusively on their own behalf.

Use standards and benchmarks

If women are forced to represent very personal demands, for example in salary negotiations, they can try to circumvent the problems described above and refer primarily to common standards and benchmarks in their argumentation. If my coachees talk about professional or industry-standard fee rates instead of their personal demands, their chances of a positive response increase.

Preparation is everything

Whatever the starting position, in negotiations preparation is often not only half the battle, but the whole house. The more difficult the talks and negotiations, the more time you should therefore take to prepare for them.

A step back brings clarity in conflict

A key principle of successful negotiation is the ability to identify preconceived, subjective biases and demands as such. This is especially important because you should try everything possible to objectify them.

It helps to take a step back before the start of the negotiation or a difficult conversation and think about your own motivation and that of your negotiating partners. Putting yourself in the other person's shoes for a moment and asking what drives the people involved in a conflict and where stumbling blocks might be hiding in the upcoming conversation has advantages.

Consideration for the human condition

It is often deeply human wishes and needs that are often unspoken in negotiations, but have the strongest effect. These include above all the desire for personal and economic security, the need to belong, acceptance and human recognition.

While the expression of these needs ultimately depends on individual personality structure, gender differences can be observed in coaching with respect to these needs. Women tend to be more sensitive, more safety-conscious and more interested in harmony than their male counterparts. Men appear comparatively less emotional but more competitive.

If such needs are violated, this can significantly jeopardize the success of the negotiation. Therefore, one should recognize the motives of all participants in the negotiation in advance and, if possible, appreciate them. In conflict-laden situations, the best position is to be as objective as possible. You should separate human needs from objectifiable behaviors and address the latter in particular.

In the heat of the moment

In order to survive in heated negotiating situations, it can be worthwhile to take a trained look at human weaknesses. Good feelings don't always rule in negotiations. We also encounter envy, greed, anger, rage and jealousy. Before you get carried away with giving in to these emotions, try to pause for a moment. Breaks like this can save negotiations.

The personal lighthouse providesan overview

If, in a negotiation, you find that trust has been abused or respect has been denied, it is human to want to repay like with like. But it is precisely in such situations that it is important not to give in to this. Again, a short pause and a mental step back does "wonders" because it allows you to look at the situation as objectively as possible, from a personal lighthouse, so to speak.

In conflict-laden moments, it is important to weigh momentary emotions against medium- and longer-term goals. If you can balance the two, you're a big step closer to a good negotiation outcome.

Work with sparring partners

The goal is to put one's emotions and ego behind the will to succeed. The emotional self should not triumph over the intellectual self.

To best prepare for the next difficult conversation, practice the situation in advance with colleagues, sparring partners or coaches. A trained counterpart can help identify the different aspects and contingencies of a challenging situation ahead of time and help train how best to handle it.

With these tools, you can face the next negotiation confidently, relaxed and with self-assurance.

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