Women’s Relational Orientation in Negotiations: A Blessing or a Curse?

Topic(s): fairness, gender
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Asking for Less (but Receiving More): Women Avoid Impasses and Outperform Men When Negotiators Have Weak Alternatives
Authors: A. Ma, R. Ponce de Leon, A.S. Rosette
Reviewed by: Katherine Facteau

Negotiations are crucial in the workplace – influencing an employee’s ability to obtain higher salaries, better hours, and greater career advancement opportunities. However, inherent in the practice of negotiation is the need to be competitive. This is contrary to the societal expectations placed on women, who are expected to be more relational-oriented. A relational orientation occurs when a person is attuned to interpersonal dynamics and is more likely to favor teamwork. New research (Ma et al., 2023) explores how women’s relational behaviors in negotiations may not always harm them, and how women may even obtain better outcomes than men.


Data was collected from negotiation pitches from the television show Shark Tank. Research assistants coded the pitches for how high the initial offer was, the relational orientation of the negotiators, and the outcome of the negotiation. The researchers found that women made weaker initial offers compared to men because of their higher relational orientation. However, this also made them less likely to reach an impasse than men.

In a second study, the researchers utilized participants who played the part of a job candidate negotiating salary. They were randomly assigned to have either a strong alternative offer (e.g., another job lined up) or a weak alternative offer (e.g., no job lined up). Again, women made lower first offers than men, but also reached fewer impasses. When there were weaker alternatives, women outperformed men; but with strong alternatives, performance did not differ between men and women. These results held when controlling for women’s fear of backlash for making a high offer. Thus, it appeared that women focused on avoiding an impasse, while men focused on gaining as much for themselves as possible.


The results suggest that women can outperform men in terms of avoiding an impasse when there are weak alternatives. Thus, when negotiating, women should feel confident that they can obtain beneficial outcomes for themselves. Further, men should consider making offers that are not so assertive that the risk of an impasse is high, especially if there are weak alternatives. Taken together, the results offer deep insight into how negotiations play out.


Ma, A., Ponce de Leon, R., & Rosette, A. S. (2023). Asking for less (but receiving more): Women avoid impasses and outperform men when negotiators have weak alternatives. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.

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