Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author, coach, and attorney Cindy Watson is redefining the art of negotiation. Through encouraging her clients to tap into their femininity, Watson champions a collaborative rather than competitive world.
Cindy Watson sees life as, fundamentally, a series of negotiations. In our personal, professional, and communal pursuits – we constantly negotiate with each other to achieve our desired outcomes. However, Watson claims that many of us falter in these deliberations because we maintain an inherently skewed view of effective negotiation tactics. The source of this disorientation? Gender biases.
As an accomplished lawyer, public speaker, and personal coach, Watson is well-versed in the art of getting what she wants. Nicknamed “the barracuda” by her legal partners, Watson was commended on her ruthless courtroom manner which often led to the success of her clients. But contrary to her professional triumphs, she felt that the aggression she employed as a lawyer was harming her humanity in poignant ways: “I felt like I was not making people feel better after our exchanges.”
An argument with her son was her turning point, a signal that the uncompromising nature Watson had to develop to succeed as a female lawyer was negatively affecting her relationships. She shares, “I could see [his] tension building up, and eventually he just exploded and said ‘Mom, why do you need to win every conversation?’”
Ultimately, she was left with a profound sense of disillusionment. “It was starting to ripple into my personal life, I was just looking in the mirror and not loving what I saw in myself.”
Following this inflection point, which she refers to as both an “epiphany” and a “personal crisis,” Watson took a critical look into why achieving the professional success she desired failed to deliver fulfillment. She landed on the conclusion that in media, popular culture, and corporate environments, we’re spoon-fed the merits of “barbaric” competitiveness, a win-at-all-costs mentality that ultimately harms more than it helps.
Watson links our ultra-competitive climate to the historical oppression of women, referencing a myriad of events over thousands of years in which women have been marginalized for their power. Over time, traits associated with stereotypical femininity like empathy, collaboration, and trust were forced into association with weakness and irrationality. Thus, the caustic vying we experience today is a result of the celebration of traditionally masculine traits like aggression, social dominance, and individualism.
Due to the external affirmations we receive when we exercise these traits in our careers, Watson says we miss key elements of collaborative negotiation that would ultimately grant everyone richer fulfillment in their lives. “When we define success based on this absolute competitive, more masculine model, both men and women stifle our feminine,” she tells us. “Until we reframe success and recognize that the competitive model is not a true indicator of success, because there are very high costs that come with that approach in our professional lives, personal lives, in our sense of self, our humanity, we’re not going to change.”
Shedding her “barracuda” identity, Watson now works as a lifestyle coach through her Art of Feminine Negotiation Program – helping women reincorporate their ‘feminine’ intuitions that they may have suppressed. “Of course we see [femininity] as a liability, why wouldn’t we? We’re told if you want to hit that pinnacle, this is the way you need to behave.”
Watson works from her AREFIT model of negotiation to help women live their most gratifying lives, which incorporates assertiveness, rapport-building, empathy, flexibility, intuition, and trust. Other than assertiveness, these characteristics are broadly considered ‘feminine.’ However, Watson argues that all genders inherently possess these traits and are equally encouraged to discard them to succeed in a world that rewards cut-throat competition.
As a coach and public speaker, Watson champions the AREFIT values. When both parties in a negotiation “create the space for honest, open communications it allows for more creative solutions that better meet the needs of all parties.” Watson’s clients consistently laud this approach and commend her mentorship abilities: “Cindy has just been such an inspiration, working with her has changed my life.”
Although stereotypically masculine traits receive the highest societal praise, Watson makes it clear that the way forward is not about playing a blame game, but rather “work[ing] our way back to what I think we all have intuitively.” Men are similarly harmed by gender stereotypes, and “women are equally guilty of gender bias against other women, and ourselves…that kind of deep-seated conditioning fundamentally impacts how we show up.”
Watson utilizes the labels ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in her work because society still largely operates from and understands these terms, but her philosophy has much more to do with the nuances of human nature than it does with gender labels. “When I talk about that so-called ‘feminine path,’ there’s no one way to be a woman or a man … it’s about recognizing we all have masculine and feminine energy.” Watson encourages everyone to tap into their oft-suppressed feminine traits to access meaningful and effective negotiation.
Intentionality is a keystone in the process of mindful negotiation. Watson isn’t leading us to the idea that we should negate our needs to please other people, but rather employ vulnerability “so people can show up as themselves, comfortably, to contribute in the fullest ways possible to enhance their lives.” Writing from her blog, Women on Purpose, Watson states that simply bringing a higher degree of empathy to negotiations “triggers reciprocity, thereby triggering a chain of collaborative thinking that typically leads to better results and less positional bargaining.”
Although Watson acknowledges that “we still have a lot of resistance around these concepts,” she’s motivated by the shifted mindsets she has witnessed in her own clients. She describes the intrinsic satisfaction wrought as she “watch[es] people blossom.” They “get better outcomes, better relationships, more creative solutions, better buy-ins, longer-lasting agreements” through accessing their feminine energy.
When asked about her vision for the future of the Art of Feminine Negotiation, Watson visibly lights up. Her grand vision “is the impact on humanity … to see the ripple effect that we have on the world when we define success differently, when we reframe what conflict even is.” Rather than enlisting a winner-takes-all, shrouded negotiation style, trust is fundamental to developing relationships where fruitful conciliation can exist.
As she does with her clients, Watson imparts that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach in working towards empathetic and rewarding negotiation – everyone has a personalized journey that depends on context. However, the message she leaves us with is as universal as it is powerful: “Negotiate your best life, so other people can negotiate theirs.”
To learn more about embracing feminine power, book a Breakthrough Session with Cindy Watson today.