Tag Archives: negotiation

Rorty on Threats vs. Offers

This passage from Richard Rorty’s Pragmatism as Anti-Authoritarianism resonates with some of the posts I’ve written about orders vs. requests, consultation and non-coercive practices, and what we are doing (or what we should do) when we ask someone to do something. It seems even more relevant now than when the lectures included in this book were delivered (in the 1990s), especially that last paragraph.

…[T]he only notion of rationality we need, at least in moral and social philosophy, is that of a situation in which people do not say “your own current interests dictate that you agree to our proposal” but rather “your own central beliefs, the ones which are central to your own moral identity, suggest that you should agree to our proposal.” …To appeal to interests rather than beliefs is to urge a modus vivendi. Such an appeal is exemplified by the speech of the Athenian ambassadors to the unfortunate Melians, as reported by Thucydides. To appeal to your enduring beliefs as well as to your current interests is to suggest that what gives you your present moral identity—your thick and resonant complex of beliefs—may make it possible for you to develop a new, supplementary moral identity. It is to suggest that what makes you loyal to a smaller group may give you reason to cooperate in constructing a larger group, a group to which you may in time become equally loyal, or perhaps even more loyal. The difference between the absence and the presence of rationality, on this account, is the difference between a threat and an offer—the offer of a new moral identity and thus a new and larger loyalty, a loyalty to a group formed by an unforced agreement between smaller groups.

…any unforced agreement between individuals and groups about what to do creates a form of community, and will, with luck, be the initial stage in expanding the circles of those whom each party to the agreement had previously taken to be “people like ourselves.” The opposition between rational argument and fellow feeling thus begins to dissolve. For fellow feeling may, and often does, arise from the realization that the people whom one thought one might have to go to war with, use force on, are, in Rawls’s sense, “reasonable.” They are, it turns out, enough like us to see the point of compromising differences in order to live in peace, and of abiding by the agreement that has been hammered out. They are, to some degree at least, trustworthy….

If we cease to think of reason as a source of authority, and think of it simply as the process of reaching agreement by persuasion, then the standard Platonic and Kantian dichotomy of reason and feeling begins to fade away. That dichotomy can be replaced by a continuum of degrees of overlap of beliefs and desires. When people whose beliefs and desires do not overlap very much disagree, they tend to think of each other as crazy, or, more politely, as irrational. When there is considerable overlap, on the other hand, they may agree to differ, and regard each other as the sort of people one can live with—and eventually, perhaps, the sort one can be friends with, intermarry with, and so on. To advise people to be rational is, on the view I am offering, simply to suggest that somewhere among their shared beliefs and desires there may be enough resources to permit agreement on how to co-exist without violence. To conclude that somebody is irredeemably irrational is not to realize that she is not making proper use of her God-given faculties. It is rather to realize that she does not seem to share enough relevant beliefs and desires with us to make possible fruitful conversation about the issue in dispute. So, we reluctantly conclude, we have to give up on the attempt to get her to enlarge her moral identity, and settle for working out a modus vivendi—one which may involve the threat, or even the use, of force.

What Do Women Want? What They’re Asking For

Sasha Galbraith has a piece on Forbes today about Megan Brown, who launched a company called HatchedIt — a social calendar app, for planning, managing and coordinating events with friends and family. Much of it reads like a press release, a fluff piece about an entrepreneurial Mommy blogger, ripe for the kind of satire that Paul Rudnick dished out in The New Yorker last week. (But not, I should note, before Ruth Fowler beat him to the punch.)

What caught my eye was the title (“Lesson From a Woman of Wall Street: Ask For What You Want”), which promised to say something about asking; and what redeemed the article and kept it from being all fluff was Brown’s account of her rise through the male-dominated ranks of finance and her mockery of the “empty suits” with whom she used to work: “they all use a bevy of analogies like, ‘We all need to be rowing in the same direction’ and ‘picking the low-hanging fruit.’ You can’t understand anything they’re saying, but all the other men think they sound brilliant.” So here, I thought, is a woman schooled in the workings of power and language in the world of business.

For Brown, asking is something men expect; but it’s not something women do:

I also think there is a different way to manage men than you manage women… Men respond differently. I have to remind myself when dealing with a man, you need to be direct; you need to ask for what you need upfront; and you need to not be embarrassed or apologize. It’s a skill set that took me a long time to really understand in finance and I had to learn quickly to ramp up my career. But if not for those experiences, I don’t think I would understand that now, especially as we are looking for funding and partnerships, you really need to ask for what you want. And for a lot of women [in any industry or situation], that’s challenging.”

The trouble with this advice is that it rehearses stereotypes Brown probably learned from hanging around those empty suits. As research from the organization Catalyst shows, “it’s simply untrue” that women don’t ask.

For example, by looking at the career paths of over 4000 MBA grads from around the world, Catalyst found that women were more likely than men to ask for a variety of skill-building experiences and to proactively seek training opportunities. And we also found that women and men negotiated for a higher level position or greater compensation during the hiring process for their current job at equal rates.

Women do ask –but get little in return. Equally skilled men advance farther and more quickly than their female peers. In fact, we found that the $4600 pay gap that starts from day one grew to more than $31,000 several years down the track—even when women asked.

The Catalyst study concedes that “women who toot their own horn do get ahead –and are happier at work too,” but tooting your own horn is not really the same as asking. The issue is that when women ask, their requests are not being met. In a Washington Post article, Catalyst researchers Nancy Carter and Christine Silva point out that “people routinely take a tougher stance against women in negotiations than they do against men” and that talent management systems can be biased against women.

If entrenched sexism in the business environment affects everything from how women are received when they ask, to what they think they can ask for, as well as ideas of what power looks like, how it’s created and how it’s shared, then it might conceivably prevent some women from asking for what they want, or make it seem “challenging” to do so, as Megan Brown says. But I’m afraid that merely advising women “to ask for what you need upfront” is a bit like telling them they just have to lean in.