Construction Industry: Women Armed and Dangerous Have Mediators Frustrated

In the recent years, women have transformed from homemaker to a builder and ultimate decision maker in hiring contractors. This trend has been caused because of the labor shortage in the construction field and increasing number of households headed by single women. The introduction of women into this field can be a barrier for the construction mediator in resolving disputes, where for years the field was dominated by men. Mediators have to recognize that men and women negotiate differently. If the mediator uses the ‘one size’ fits all approach, his mediation will go down in defeat.

Research has shown that women out perform men when they are negotiating on behalf of someone else, such as a client or on behalf of an employer. Women more often than men take a ‘collaborative’ or cooperative approach to negotiation that has been shown to produce agreements that are better for both sides. Women are more likely than men to listen to the needs and concerns of the other side, communicate their own priorities and pressures, and try to find solutions that benefit all parties-to find the win/win solutions. This approach not only leads to better outcomes for everyone, it often produces creative solutions to problems that might have been overlooked by men taking a more competitive or adversarial approach. Also, by looking for those win/win solutions, women tend to preserve and enhance long-term business relationships-they don’t burn as many bridges as men who focus on short-term gains. Women work harder, smarter but do not boast about their accomplishments.

Armed with increasing knowledge, experience in the building industry and their different negotiation skills, women can pose a different barrier to the male construction mediator. Women are more collaborative or cooperative in mediation and to many mediators this may signal that the woman is not proficient on the expert subject matter or are caving in because they or their client is liable. Many mediators discount what a woman in the construction field has to say and invariably pressures them on giving more money to settle or to drop their demand. This immediately creates a barrier for the mediator, because a woman is incensed by this type of treatment and will become more resistant to settling. Mediators are impressed by a man’s aggressive behavior, who mandates that they or their client did nothing wrong, who tells war stories on what a great builder or attorney they are, and will not budge off their position unless a mediator tells them to the contrary. The mediator assumes that the male has a better handle and superior knowledge on subject matter and a woman’s style of negotiation confirms the mediator’s bias.

How can a mediator handle the different negotiation styles of a woman in construction mediation?Women who are the homeowner party during negotiations are much less likely than men to ask for what they want and to use negotiation as a tool to promote their own desires. In this situation, a woman will listen to the needs and concerns of the other side, communicate her own priorities and pressures, but be aggressive in pushing her demands. Women are aware of their shortcomings and will usually have a representative or attorney make demands on their behalf. This does not mean that the “attorney is acting as the party” or the “woman does not have a grasp on the cause of the defects,” rather it means she is the brain behind the action. A mediator should not become frustrated because the woman homeowner will not speak to him about her demands. However, a mediator should engage in a discussion about the issues in the case. Having a meaningful discussion about the issues will cause a woman to reframe her demands to her representative/attorney.

Women who are acting as the representative for their employer builder/contractor are savvy negotiators. Their negotiation style is different, cooperative, and collaborative and is seeking win/win solutions for all the parties. Mediators may feel that they are trying to usurp their role as the mediator, ignore the woman’s discussion on how to resolve the action and limit the discussion to monetary demands. Mediators should not be condescending, engage in the discussion and then walk out of the room and tell the other participants, who happens to be males, that the woman does not have a grasp on the issues. Take her solutions seriously, bolster her credibility to the other male participants and present her ideas to the other participants. If you shut her discussions down, you will create a permanent barrier and your mediation will end without a settlement. Remember that women work harder, are smarter but do not boast about their accomplishments or expertise. mediation costs

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