When I founded my first company I didn’t have time to find someone to date, but I knew that I wanted to get married. So I followed all the advice I had read about how you should tell people what you want in order to get what you want. I started telling everyone that I wanted to get married, and a lot of people set me up on dates.
But things did not go well. Almost every guy I went out with ended up wanting to do business with me. (Yes, I went into business with one of them.) And often when I met with an investor about the next round of funding for my company, our meeting (that was invariably at some swanky restaurant he owned) turned into a date by the end of the evening.
I started questioning the idea that I should be so frank about looking to get married. Life is one big negotiating opportunity, and I saw I was not doing well. Also, I noticed that men don’t generally ask for what they want. The classic example: They ask you out to lunch when what they really want is sex.
There is so much written about how women are not as good at negotiating as men are. Lots of studies show that women don’t even start negotiating — nine times out of ten, men will ask and women won’t. And when women do negotiate, they don’t get what they want as often as men do.
There is no solid research to tell us the why behind the poor negotiations. Most people who toss around ideas about why women don’t ask, toss around some version of the idea that women don’t like conflict: Women like to collaborate; women are caretakers.
I don’t believe this, because in a relationship, women are typically more comfortable with conflict than men are. In fact, women are more likely than men to bring up conflict in a relationship. And men are more likely to withdraw from conflict. (This last link is so fun. It’s dating tips for guys from AskMen.com – a site that is always right on target about how women think.)
Anyway, I think the reason women do poorly in negotiations is that women assume you should ask for what you want, but men know that’s not how the game is played. Men know that you need to be aware of what you want, but that’s not necessarily what you ask for.
So then it makes sense that men negotiate more than women because women are facing conflict head-on and men are not. It’s much easier to approach someone you are not going to instigate conflict with. So negotiations work best when you don’t assume you need to ask for exactly what you want.
Think of the sex example: If a guy approaches you for sex, you hang up on him. If he approaches you for lunch, you think he’s very sweet. And then later you have sex.
Salary is another situation where you are better off not asking for what you want. In salary negotiations, you always want to wait until the other person gives the number. Even though you know what you want, if you say the first number, your counterpart will tell you it is higher than he or she was planning to pay, no matter what the number is.
When someone asks how much money you want, a way to get out asking directly for the very high salary you really want is to say things like, “I want to consider the whole package not just salary” or “I want to make sure we are a good match before we talk about salary.” This forces the other person to give a number first, and then you can say you want more.
My friend Chris Yeh gave me another good example of when you should not ask for what you want: Founding a company. He said if you want advice, ask for money, and if you want money, ask for advice. For those of you who have dealt with investors, you’ll recognize that this is exactly how the world of startups works.
And based on my own experience of trying to date while running a startup, I think this might be true too: If you want to go into business with someone, ask them on a date. And if you want to date someone, go into business with them.