“Feminine Charm” as Negotiation Tactic

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë


Jane Austen

Jane Austen

“Feminine charm” was one of the few available negotiation tactics for women in past decades, portrayed in novels by Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, and George Eliot.

Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that she used “charm” in negotiations with heads of state. This statement inspired University of California, Berkeley’s Laura Kray and Alex Van Zant with Connson Locke of London School of Economics to investigate “feminine charm” in negotiation situations.

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright


Laura Kray

They found that “the aim of feminine charm is to make an interaction partner feel good as a way of gaining compliance.

They found that “charm” is characterized by:

  • Friendliness, or concern for the other person,
  • Flirtation, or concern for self and self-presentation.

Hannah Riley Bowles

They learned that “feminine charm” (friendliness plus flirtation) partially buffered the social penalties (“backlash”) against women’s efforts to negotiate, identified by Harvard’s Hannah Riley Bowles and her colleagues.

Linda Babcock

Women who were perceived as flirtatious achieved superior economic deals in negotiations compared with women who were seen as friendly.

This finding validates Carnegie Mellon’s Linda Babcock’s discovery that women achieve better negotiation outcomes when they combine power tactics with warmth.

Their findings expose “a financial risk associated with female friendliness:…the resulting division of resources may be unfavorable if she is perceived as ‘too nice’.”

-*How do you mitigate the “financial risk associated with female friendliness”?


©Kathryn Welds


4 thoughts on ““Feminine Charm” as Negotiation Tactic

  1. Megan Murphy

    I feel so mixed about this. Isn’t the undercurrent of this…if I turn you on I think I’ll get paid more. ? I like to think more in terms of the power of feminine, as in…Bring my best fem brain and heart forward with a generous spirit, but leave the flirtation out of it. I think flirtation, while obviously affective, is not helping women, today or in the long run.

    1. kathrynwelds Post author

      Thanks for this succinct analysis of the concern with using “feminine charm” (including flirtatiousness) in negotiation and work situations, Megan.

      As you point out, flirtation might augment friendliness to achieve superior financial outcomes in laboratory experiments, but this tactic may seem like a compromise of personal values.

      Friendliness seems to buffer the negative “backlash” against women who speak up and negotiate, but more investigation is required to determine how frequently women intentionally add flirtation to interpersonal warmth, and whether those who do think that the long-term effects are worthwhile.

      *Kathryn Welds* welds@post.harvard.edu 650 740 0763 *LinkedIn | **Blog **|**Google+ ** |Twitter@kathrynwelds **| Facebook notes *

      On Sun, Aug 18, 2013 at 8:29 AM, Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and

  2. Pingback: Gender Differences in Emotional Expression: Smiling | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

  3. Pingback: Anxiety Undermines Negotiation Performance | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s