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Do men lie more often than women to win a business negotiation? The short answer is yes. Yet the reasons why women and men might deceive or tell the truth isn’t so straightforward. Recent research by two experts at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University suggests that our propensity to lie might have everything to do with context and expectations, as well as the lens we adopt when we head into a negotiation. The research also points to ways we can and should boost truthfulness for everyone, regardless of gender.
I started looking into the research around lying in business negotiations because of a conversation I had with a friend – an executive that we’ll call Julie. Julie told me about the first negotiation experience she had while attending an Ivy League business school. She was paired up with a friend – a man we’ll call Bill – whom she was friends with since before they were in business school together. They had to work out the sale of a fictional gas station. Because they were friends, Julie thought she could be completely transparent with Bill about the information she had. Bill was agreeable, and they finished up their deal quickly and went on to talk about other things. The game concluded, and the instructor tallied up the results. Bill had the second highest result in the game and Sarah had the 98th highest out of a class of one hundred people. “Bill lied to me,” Sarah recounted, “and I never really trusted him again.” She felt that this formative experience might have caused her to avoid negotiating with friends in the future.
So why did Bill lie? Part of that behavior might be because of gender, where men view negotiations – real or simulated – as a competitive situation, whereas women might view it as a chance to collaborate or build a relationship. Dr. Leigh Thompson at Kellogg was interested in whether or not those approaches are always true, so she worked with her colleague Dr. Jason Pearce at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, on a few experiments to see if lying or truthfulness could be encouraged in either gender. In both experiments, the participant was given an envelope of cash, with the instructions that they were to divide up that cash with a partner who was in another room. Negotiations would take place via computer, and the participant could decide whether or not to be truthful in telling the partner how much cash was in the envelope.
Thompson and Pearce found that regardless of gender if the participant thought about the interaction as a game, they were more likely to lie and take more of the cash. In fact, 64% of the women in the study lied, versus 61% of men. Thompson is quick to point out that this gender difference in lying wasn’t statistically significant, but it illustrates that when the situation is thought of as competitive, a majority lie and take the cash. But in the neutral situation, where participants were not encouraged to be competitive, only 29% of women lied about the amount of cash in the envelope, whereas 44% of men lied and grabbed more for themselves.
Thompson wanted to see if these behaviors were still true if an important element of empathy was introduced. So in another experiment, Thompson and Pearce described the unseen negotiating partner in more detail. To test the effect of enhanced empathy, they described the partner as a retiree who would use the money from the negotiation to buy small gifts and treats for their grandchildren. Also, they included that the retiree was forced to retire early and lives off of their retirement savings. For the control group, where empathy was not being activated, the negotiating partner was described as someone who wanted to retire early, and the money would be used to buy treats for themselves.
While the control or neutral situation had similar results to the previous experiment (21% of women lied and 44% of men lied), the empathy-inducing situation created surprising results. “Under any condition, you can count on nearly 50% of men to lie,” said Thompson. “If you put them in a high-empathy situation, you can cut the lying by half.” Only 23% of men lied when they thought they were negotiating with a retiree on a reduced income, similar to the rate that women tend to lie when presented with a neutral situation. Women still lied less, with only 17% lying to the retiree.
Thompson explains this dynamic – of shifting between deception and truthfulness – as shifting perspectives. “We’re all walking around in business meetings in corporations and companies with frames that define how we see the world. Some of us see the world as a Wall Street game, and some of us see a situation with a retiree who is living day-to-day. That’s going to affect your behavior, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not.” It also drives home the point that when empathy is activated, people are willing to grab less value in order to get to a more equally beneficial outcome.
But what happens when gender norms and expectations cause us to act in unlikely ways? Dr. Maryam Kouchaki studies the role of ethics and morality in negotiation. Occasionally, this intersects with how gender roles might actually cause us to bend our enforcement of ethics. “Decades of research have established that women tend to be less competitive and less assertive in negotiation. When it comes to ethics, we have seen a very similar pattern. There seems to be a robust gender difference when it comes to deception in negotiation.” But this isn’t the case in all situations. In fact, Kouchaki found that women might justify the use of deception when they think they are expected to lie or do whatever it takes to win a negotiation because they are under pressure to produce specific outcomes. “They don’t want to let the people they’re advocating for down,” Koucahki said. The mix of pressure to perform and not wanting to let the other person down might be what causes some women to act against their moral or ethical code to get to a preferred outcome. “It speaks to the fact that women are in a vulnerable position,” she said. “They’re trying to satisfy different expectations. Unfortunately, that means sometimes going against your personal values.” Kouchaki also mentioned that she didn’t usually find the same dynamic in men because they simply do not experience the same response to pressure or expectations, whether in advocacy roles or not.
Kouchaki also found another dimension to whether or not a woman is likely to be competitive and go against her ethics – whether or not she’s advocating for a man. Going against personal ethics wasn’t observed when women were advocating for other women. “When people feel pressured with the expectation to do bad things for others because it will benefit others, it can lead people to do bad things,” Kouchaki said. While men seem less susceptible to performance pressure, that doesn’t inoculate them from the potential to act unethically. “I could easily see situations when men might find themselves in this position, where they simply have no choice and others are expecting them to do bad things,” Kouchaki said. Again, expectations really matter when it comes to maintaining ethics.
Kouchaki also noted that when pressure is present, everyone can become vulnerable to bending their ethics. One way to neutralize deception for everyone is to simply become more transparent. “Whether in an advocacy role or not, we have to make expectations really clear,” Kouchaki said. Men need to make it clear that there is not an expectation to be unethical in how their advocate or staff might negotiate, and women should persist in staying true to their values, rather than conform to anyone’s expectations. “When we make conversations explicit and we talk about them, it just makes everything better,” Kouchaki said. Relying on assumptions seems to lead everyone to a higher potential for questionable behavior.
December 18, 2018 at 10:46AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs