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The Art of Feminine Negotiation: An Untapped Secret Weapon

Best-selling author, attorney, and personal coach Cindy Watson is reimagining the art of negotiation. By encouraging everyone to tap into their so-called “feminine” traits, she advocates for finding ‘power together’ rather than ‘power over’.

With the advent of the 21st century, women are consistently told that now, we too can have it all. We can achieve our greatest professional aspirations in any field, cultivate a family, or we can do none of this and simply mold our lives in whatever way makes us content. However, as all women inherently understand, there has always been a caveat to untempered potential regardless of your decisions. Despite women’s limitless potential in theory and in legislation, we are still undeniably burdened by thousands of years of gender roles and discrimination.

Cindy Watson

Cindy Watson, as an accomplished social justice lawyer and best-selling author, is the definition of a woman who has been able to have it all. Her inspirational presentation has garnered over 2 million views, her law practice was named “Best Labour Law Firm”, and her brand “Women on Purpose” was named one of the Best Businesses in Canada. However, her strategies for vocational success early on in her legal career came at a personal price.

To prove her merit as one of the only women in her male-dominated field, Watson had to employ twice the tenacity, scrappiness, and aggressiveness of her peers. “Sure enough, I got praised for it. The tougher I was, the better. I elevated quickly within my law firm. They started calling me ‘the barracuda’, which they meant as a compliment”. To be lauded as a “barracuda”, Watson utilized stereotypically “male” characteristics: combativeness, hyper-independence, and an uncompromising negotiation style.

Gender conditioning has taught men and women alike that despite women’s equal abilities, traits commonly associated with femininity are a hindrance on the path to success. We’re often subliminally shown this: in our media, our schooling and professions, and in international diplomacy. Trust must never be extended to our competitors, play a zero-sum game, and always hold your own interests paramount compared to others.

Traits categorized by unconscious gender biases as “feminine” and therefore denounced, like empathy, collaboration, and rapport-building are ironically what experts say make the most constructive negotiations. Watson explains that she hesitated to label her program and book of the same name “The Art of Feminine Negotiation”, because these are skills everyone can tap into. “We come to see [these skills] as a liability. So we stifle them. But in fact, they are the secret weapon and not at all gender-based. I stuck with “The Feminine” because I looked at the world around us and the unconscious gender bias we still experience.””

Although Watson achieved the legal success she sought, the ultra-competitive mindset created immense disillusionment. “I recognized what a high cost there is that comes with that. In our personal relationships, it starts to ripple over, like a toxic poison. Then, in our very sense of self”.

Watson describes a harrowing moment in her personal life as a catalyzing event: a heart defect in her newborn daughter, which kept her in intensive care for two months following her birth. “I would have thought if there was ever a time to show up as the “barracuda”, it would have been when I was fighting for her life. But, I reverted to my natural, authentic style without even being aware. In part, that was the genesis for my AREFIT model”.

To those who may have drifted so far from their “femininity” that it seems near impossible to find their way back, Watson provides a series of models along with her coaching program to outline her philosophy. When you find yourself negotiating, whether it’s a multi-million dollar merger, a raise, or a familial spat, approach it with AREFIT, No FEAR, and the Five W’s.

The AREFIT model utilizes those stereotypically “feminine” characteristics that we’ve been taught to suppress: Assertiveness, Rapport-Building, Empathy, Flexibility, Intuition, and Trust. Watson contends, “The idea is that if we truly try to understand and meet the needs of others, we are going to get more elegant and constructive solutions. It’s that simple”.

To maintain clarity and control during negotiations, leave your Fear, Ego, Attachment, and Reactivity at the door. Then, run through a simple checklist: Who do I want to be during this negotiation? What is my objective? Where is the best setting for deliberation to take place? When is the optimal time? Why am I having this negotiation?

Within the absolutely competitive “masculine” model that we have been taught is appropriate for getting what we want, “There’s only winners and losers,” says Watson. “It’s the difference between wanting to exert power over others and instead looking for power with others. How can we find more power together”?

Watson herself is the proof of the validity of the Art of Feminine Negotiation. She was “very vocal”  with her colleagues about her mindset shift, “Then they saw the results. We were getting even better results with this more collaborative approach”. Watson also describes improving the bonds in her personal relationships, allowing her to more deftly navigate difficult circumstances. Her best-selling book resonated deeply with its readers, and her coaching business shows no signs of slowing down. Watson’s client testimonials say it all: “An inspiration, working with her has changed my life.”

When discussing the future of The Art of Feminine Negotiation, Watson leaves us with a poignant picture: “Imagine a world where we all showed up trying to understand the needs of others and not being afraid of our differences, but embracing them. Seeing what we can do to not shy away from a conflict because of those differences, to have a world that’s a little more holistic”.

To book your Breakthrough Session with Cindy Watson, access her free workbook, and immerse yourself in her blog and podcast, head to Women On Purpose.

Written by: Emily Hellam


Woman's World partners with external contributors. All contributor content is reviewed by the Woman's World editorial staff.

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