More rational and less emotional... It is a widely sought-after state that is seen as better than one infused with emotions. And it is seen by many as the ideal state of mind when resolving conflict. I think that this paradigm, dismissive of emotion, is a pernicious fiction.

Society, in ways largely created by men, exerts tremendous pressure on women to modulate their emotional lives so that they fit the normative view that emotions are merely an impediment to be overcome to get to reasoned thought, as if the two were separate and distinct and not bound up inextricably. The harm from this attitude extends far beyond any conversation about feminist ideology.


At what cost do women push aside their biology in order to negotiate in ways that men see as advantageous?  “Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease,” says Julie Holland, a psychiatrist in New York.  In her essay in The New York Times Magazine, she wrote about the effect on women of a widely held belief that expressing their emotions reveals that they are weak or out of control.

Men, too, view their emotions as an obstacle to attaining and keeping power. Thus, when confronted with an emotional obstruction to solving a problem, men may be willing to allow for some “venting,” but not a lot of it, before getting back to the problem at hand. In a sense, conflict resolution systems, like mediation, rest on behaviors typically seen by males as essential ingredients for resolving conflict – spare problem solving; short time lines; command and control of the issues, and so on.

The behaviors most often identified as feminine – empathy, patience, compassion, emotionality – are viewed as time consuming obstacles to resolving conflict efficiently. In much the same way as many languages assign a gender to words, today’s mediation would likely be male. But it need not be thus.

There are behaviors in every negotiation that are more often than not expressed by one gender or the other but not exclusively and not all the time.  The challenge is to recognize and understand the behavior without making it good or bad, right or wrong, male or female. It is a skill that will make you a much better negotiator.