“Sometimes it is difficult to see the stories we carry until we are in a situation where our story is being challenged or doesn’t fit. It is almost like being a fish out of water. The fish does not know it is in the water until it is out of it and recognizes the comfort and survival needs that are met by the water. Our stories, both social and personal, provide us with that same comfort and survival mechanism until we become aware that some of these stories may actually be getting in our way of being the best we can be,” Beth Fisher-Yoshida writes in her new book, entitled New Story, New Power: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiation. It’s an unusually introspective passage for a leadership or business advice book. But Fisher-Yoshida does it in a way that doesn’t feel corny or diverting, rather it only strengthens the material in more ways than one, particularly as it’s pertinent to the specific focus on gender’s influence on female negotiators in the workplace.

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“Unfortunately, much of (society’s) framing of perfectionism comes from cultural influences about the way girls and then women should behave, especially the notion of women as nurturing types who take care of others,” Fisher-Yoshida writes. “The story is that if we are to be good girls and women, we advocate for others and not for ourselves; otherwise, we will be considered selfish, and that is not what we want to be. We are social beings, and we can appreciate the enormous task our families, schools, and communities have of educating us to be constructively contributing members of society. However, the tendency of these institutions is to perpetuate the familiar norms and gender roles regardless of whether we like it, feel it is a fit for how we identify, or believe it perpetuates a just world and one in which we can shine and grow. There is an inherent and biological view of survival we follow that promotes a resistance to change because we are suited to maintain the status quo.”

She adds: “More recent orientations to examining gender, part of the nature versus nurture argument, have been shifting away from an essentialist perspective, where men do this and women do that in clearly prescribed roles that result from our biology. Instead, we are moving toward a socially constructed view of gender, building on the influences of nurture, that embraces a more complex view of the sexes and how that view has been shaped. Deborah Kolb explores the differences in these phenomena and acknowledges that while there are innate individual and gender-specific differences in behaviors, these are influenced by the social world around us. The roles we play and the cultures of the institutions of which we are part have a big influence on how strong or weak they are in fostering gendered behavior.

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As Kolb and others explain, we take in the stories that exist in the social world around us about how we should be- have, what we should say, and how we should say it…This back and forth between us and the world around us can be defined as communication and is not done in isolation…Negotiation as a form of communication is a relational activity. In the transmission model of communication, we create (encode) a message as best we can, in isolation, and send it to the receiver, hoping that person understands (decodes) it the way we intended. There is a lack of regard for the space between our fuller self, who embodies multiple personas, such as being daughters, sisters, friends, mothers, colleagues, musicians, athletes, and so on. All these personas we embody interact in the world around us and influence the messages we create and how they are under- stood. In a relational model of communication, we consider the meaning-making process from our own perspectives, as well as try to gauge the perspectives of the other person with whom we are communicating. If we are trying to both understand and be understood, then we need to develop different types of awareness and knowledge of what that means and how it is influenced.”

Garth Thomas