women friends women friends Trust-based friendships can lead to big payoffs. (Photo: Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock)

Why ambitious women should make more friends at work

A new study discovers something surprising about how women negotiate.

There are plenty of differences between men and women when it comes to their behavior in the workforce. But according to a new study, negotiating isn't one of them.

The study, conducted by researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel and Potsdam University in Germany, looked at negotiation tactics of 216 MBA students. What they found seemed to contradict earlier assumptions about women's effectiveness at the negotiating table.

"We consistently read that women negotiate lower outcomes than men. But is this really true?" asked Professor Uta Herbst of Potsdam University. "We know that women generally behave differently in the workplace. They focus on maintaining relationships and cooperation and fostering harmony, which are ripe circumstances for negotiations. This behavioral aspect and the process of negotiations have commonly been overlooked in existing research."

Indeed, women may not initiate negotiations or make great deals when negotiating with strangers, according to the study, but when women go to bat with or for their friends, they do just as well as men. There's a reason Anne Hathaway's character only starts killing it at her job in "The Devil Wears Prada" when she starts befriending her work buddies.

"When we looked at the negotiation tactics and outcomes of these young professionals, we found several differences between men and women," said Dr. Hilla Dotan, a professor at Tel Aviv University. "However, the one condition under which we found no difference between men and women was when women negotiated in teams of friends."

In fact, this research could point to some advantages women have over men that may not have come up in the kind of randomized laboratory experiments that typically pair strangers together (even though, in the business world, you're pretty likely to negotiate with someone you've already met).

"Women tend to focus on the process of negotiations and on building relationships and reputations. These outcomes may not be seen in the immediate commercial outcomes, but may be observed over time," explained Dotan. "Women naturally form relationships and these organic friendships shouldn't be touched, because they ultimately prove profitable for the company."

In light of this new information, companies might try and pay more attention to friendship.

"Companies would also be wise to recruit employees' friends," said Dotan, "although we should remember that not all friendships are created equal."

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Why ambitious women should make more friends at work
A new study from Israel and Germany discovers something surprising about how women negotiate.