The process of acculturation has taught women to think on several planes simultaneously and not take anything at face value. That is a huge plus in entrepreneurship.
In my last column (or should I say in my column last year) I put forth this rather baseless and random theory that we entrepreneurs are an unhappy lot and that is why we become entrepreneurs (tautological argument?).
I seem to have had some success with this style of proselytizing, given the number of hate mails I have received since, so I’m emboldened to continue in this fashion. My theory of the day is men are from Mars and women are from Venus, when it comes to negotiating.
Years ago, I trained as a negotiator with multiple international security agencies, including the FBI. I specialized broadly in the area called crisis management and over the years I became a well-known brand with all the gun-runners and truant governments (of course my then husband maintained I was good because I was very good at creating crises). This story is about my first assignment after my FBI training.
The typical practice is that one rookie is buddied with a seasoned negotiator and the rookie is expected to mostly watch and learn on the job. We were sent to Botswana to convince a gun-runner to lay down arms and surrender. Bruce, my partner was an old-timer, so predictably Irish that even in the thick of crisis, he negotiated with wry humour.
I was scared (first of all we were in Botswana which I don’t think was even on the map then, second we were blindfolded and taken to the densest part of the jungle, and third, even the translator’s English was highly suspect), and excited (first job, civilian doing what military was used to doing), and proud (where did this Kannadiga girl from Bangalore which then was still a pensioner’s paradise learn to pack and play with bad men!).
The usool of any good negotiation is that you should be able to crack it under 24 hours and the longer you take, the less chance you have of doing damage control. The gun-runner was impossible to negotiate with because his only form of communication was a daft smile. He neither said yes nor no.
He neither held his ground nor disputed ours. We were close to 70 hours of a very one-sided conversation and Bruce was close to losing it. Suddenly, something shifted in the air.
It was so palpable that both Bruce and I felt it. Bruce said to me, babes, this guy is finally thawing! I remember, I looked at Bruce, hesitated before I said, Bruce, I think something has changed but I don’t think he is thawing. Bruce of course dismissed my fears (as men are wont to do) by saying, take it from me, I’m the experienced one, I know thaw when I see one!
The protest inside me was growing by the minute and I kept shushing it, so afraid that I will make a fool of myself in front of a senior, whose report card of me mattered for the career I was embarking on.
We went back to the negotiation table and true enough, the translator said, he is willing to lay down arms. Bruce kicked me under the table and gave me a knowing smile, even as I shrank under.
But, said the translator, he has a cundison (that is how he pronounced it). At this point my stomach was rebelling and I had to try real hard to maintain a poker—even nonchalant—face. Bruce was already counting the beers he was going to guzzle on the flight back to Washington.
The cundison is, continued the translator, he will lay down arms if you leave the lady behind, because he want to play ‘ouse with lady when he back from prison!
It took us another 72 hours to convince him, why this lady who had already set up ‘ouse with someone else by then and had even had mtoto (baby), could not possibly take up his offer, however privileged she felt!
The point I’m trying to make is both Bruce and I felt there was a change but the way we interpreted it was vastly different. Bruce thought like a man, change means change the way I want it. I thought like a woman, change yes, but likely to have some ungainly strings attached!
I’m often asked if there is any difference between a male and a female entrepreneur. By and large, my answer has been, there is no difference in competency but there is a huge difference in culture. How we think is a process of acculturation and women have been taught to think on several planes simultaneously and not take anything at face value.
That is a huge plus in entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, many educated, ambitious women, in their attempt at brinkmanship in the male dominated world, are losing this. Wear pants by all means. Be a ball buster if that is what gives you your high. But trust your upbringing as a woman. That will take you to places where the male of the species will so fear to tread!
Nandini mentors entrepreneurs (www.carmaconnect.in), teaches Entrepreneurship in Ivy league biz schools around the world, and is the author of Entrepedia, the best-selling book on how to start your own business in India. She is also Managing Editor of the monthly digital magazine for entrepreneurs called Chatterpillar!
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