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The Uncanny Valley Hypothesis Applied to Negotiating Strategy

The Uncanny Valley Hypothesis Applied to Negotiating Strategy

    According to studies, men who negotiate for more money are not penalized for doing so, whereas women are heavily penalized for negotiating, even by other women.

    So it is no surprise that men negotiate for raises more often than do women. The problem is exacerbated every time one changes jobs and has another opportunity to negotiate.

    And even small differences in pay create a wealth compounding effect that makes a huge impact over a lifetime.

    So what is up with women not negotiating???

    There are two popular hypotheses on why women are less inclined to negotiate. 

    1. Shyness

    2. Negotiating is genuinely riskier for women.

    Today I offer a new hypothesis on why women might be penalized for negotiating when men are not:

    Women who negotiate in the style of men have an Uncanny Valley problem.

    The Uncanny Valley concept comes from the field of robotics. The idea is that a robot that looks like a proper metal-and-plastic robot can be cute, but if you make an artificial creature that is a-a-a-almost exactly like a human, yet slightly different, the effect is horrifying. That’s why horror movies use zombies and ghosts more often than proper monsters. Nothing is more scary than a creature that is almost human but not quite.

    When men negotiate the way society expects men to negotiate, the picture is entirely compatible with expectations. But when a woman negotiates in an assertive style we associate with men (to pick one example), I hypothesize that it causes an Uncanny Valley problem that is slightly repulsive to observers on some level. And one can imagine that impression carrying over after the negotiations are done.

    If my hypothesis is correct, the “negotiating gap” will be tricky to solve because classic negotiating tactics are viewed as male-centric behaviors. So the question is whether there is an effective negotiating tactic for women that avoids stereotypes, avoids using sexuality, and avoids looking like stereotypical male behavior? Let me take a stab at that question.

    For starters, I assume that a man who uses the wrong approach to negotiate also suffers a penalty. And it is easy to imagine that the man’s penalty for bad negotiating is less than a woman’s because society expects men to be aggressive jerks now and then. But since both men and women have the option to use good negotiating methods, once they understand them, let’s focus today on good form.

    In my experience, good negotiators say some version of “This is what I can do for you.

    This is what I am worth. I have options that are better than your offer.” There might be some negotiating back-and-forth, but the basic set-up is the same. When someone makes a claim of market value, I focus on the accuracy of the claim, and that seems like an objective process albeit with imperfect information. If the guy in front of me is asking for more than I want to pay, it seems like the market’s fault, not his. Why would I have a bad attitude about someone asking for their market value?

    In my personal experience, when women negotiate for pay their tactics often involve appeals to fairness, as in “Other people doing this job earn this amount, so I should too.” Speaking from my ivory tower in the halls of white, male privilege, I can tell you that any appeal to “fairness” is received as fighting words no matter the context. You might get a raise using those words, but I won’t ever trust you again. I will expect you to be looking for more “unfairness” everywhere, which will be a pain in my ass. And it feels manipulative. My first choice is to tell you the job is no longer available. And I would certainly feel the same if a man appealed to fairness. No, scratch that – I would judge a man more harshly for invoking “fairness” because it would seem, well, unmanly.

    On the other hand, a simple claim of your market value, along with a direct or indirect suggestion that you have attractive alternatives puts me in a competitive frame of mind. But now I am competing with strangers to be the lucky one to hire you. I am not competing with you personally over some ill-defined concept of fairness.

    See the difference? A good negotiator makes you fight with the invisible third-party of market forces. A bad negotiator makes the negotiations seem like a personal contest. My hypothesis is that women can get better negotiating results, without a lasting stigma, by using neutral language and appeals to third-party market forces. Men would get better results doing the same, but the penalty for being a jerk in negotiations is probably lower for men because it seems in character.

    To be clear, I am not suggesting my observations on how men and women negotiate are universal. I am limiting my scope today to proposing a reasonable-sounding hypothesis worth testing. My background in hypnosis tells me that training both men and women to negotiate in language that is not “fighting words” is one of several ways society can chip away at the gender pay gap. This idea has the advantage of having no structural barriers to implementation. 

    Is the hypothesis worth testing?


    In other news, this company is building a user interface to reprogram your brain to improve your mood. We need a name for the trend of computers programming humans because a lot more of that is coming. I don’t think society realizes how big a deal this is because it is the beginning of the end of the myth of “free will.” Once we can push a button and electrically rewire our minds and our moods, the notion of free will becomes too absurd to maintain.

    @ScottAdamsSays (my dangerous tweets)

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    @Dilbert_Daily (Dilbert-related tweets)

    My book on success: “Best book I’ve read in years” – 5-star review on Amazon.com, Andrew Chowning.

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