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Women are easily misled so why not lie to them in negotiations?

Monday, August 25, 2014
posted by Rita Handrich

lying to womenBack in 2012, we wrote about which gender was the more moral in negotiations. (Spoiler alert: it was women.) Now we have a new article on why women get lied to in negotiations. Not when or if–but why. Basically, people believe women are more easily misled than men and people believe women to be less competent than men. Therefore, “negotiators deceived women more so than men, thus leading women into more deals under false pretenses than men”. The researchers completed three separate studies and (to add insult to injury) these were not experiments using the ubiquitous undergraduate. These research participants were adults in the working world.

In Study 1, 131 employees (75 male and 56 female) at an online marketing research website participated in the research. (Gender was the only demographic information collected so we don’t know their educational backgrounds, average age or racial identity.) Participants were asked to imagine they were selling a used car and posted an ad on a community website. They were then approached by a male (or female) buyer. The participants were told that the buyer appeared to be a typical (male or female) negotiator. They were then asked to rate the imagined buyer on eight different traits: warmth, kindness, business sense, ambition, gullible, naïve, arrogance or stubborn. The researchers added four additional traits: easily misled, impulsive, confident and knowledgeable.

Women were perceived as both less competent and more easily misled in negotiations than were men. (These variables were derived using multiple traits rated by participants: Ease of being misled = Easily misled + Gullible + Naïve + Impulsive; and Competence = Good business sense + Confident + Knowledgeable + Ambitious.)

In Study 2, 394 employees (116 female, average age 32 years, 74% White, 7% Black, 5% Hispanic, 11% Asian, 1% Native American and 2% ‘other’) at Amazon Mechanical Turk participated in the research. These participants were asked to imagine someone (the Seller) was selling an antique chair said to be worth $1,250 according to a popular buying guide. However, one of the legs was broken and would cost $250 to repair correctly. Instead, the Seller fixed it temporarily knowing it would become wobbly again with use. The only way the Buyer would know the chair was defective is if the information was disclosed by the Seller. Again, a male and female buyer approached the Seller.

Again, women were perceived as more easily misled and as less competent. Women were believed to be less able to detect deception on the part of the Seller.

Undaunted, the researchers continued on to Study 3. This time the participants were 298 full-time MBA students (221 of whom were male) enrolled in a negotiations course. They were paired into 149 dyads (65 male-male, 23 female buyer-male seller, 48 male buyer-female seller, and 13 female-female). Research participants completed the “Bullard Houses” role-playing exercise which basically simulates a real estate transaction. They were randomly assigned to negotiate as the buyer’s agent or the seller’s agent. The buyers’ agents could either tell the truth, misrepresent, or tell an outright lie about their intentions in order to lure the sellers’ agents into a deal. And you will never see this finding coming.

Female negotiators were deceived more than male negotiators.

The researchers say that women at the negotiating table are going to be offered less favorable deal terms (based on past research) and they are going to be lied to more often than men. As the researchers looked more closely at the ways in which women were deceived, they found that women were told more blatant lies than were men and men tended to be told the truth. The researchers summarize their findings this way:

“The gender bias in deception appears driven by a greater propensity to tell women blatant lies in a situation in which men tend to be told the truth.”

This study is disheartening for any number of reasons, and it raises questions about how universal this general pattern is. From a litigation advocacy perspective, this series of studies tends to indicate women may simply be lied to rather than being allowed to engage in actual negotiations about case issues. Are they more subject to men failing to properly disclose in discovery? More often victims of spoliation of evidence? Dirty tricks at trial?

The researchers wonder if their findings could help explain the gender gap at high levels in business organizations. Women, say the researchers, may shy away from negotiations since they will be lied to and thus be at increased risk of entering into deals on the basis of false pretenses. While okay as a hypothesis worthy of testing, it is not at all supported by evidence. Let’s see an experimental design that looks at “what do women do when they know that they are being lied to by men?”. And, let’s be clear– it is more than ironic (“sexist” comes to mind) to think of this in terms of women somehow being less effective because of their weariness over men lying to them. Aren’t we talking here about being lied to? By men? We would say that until the social stereotype that women are easy to mislead is changed, and men stop lying in ways that are less likely when dealing with other men, awareness will do little to change the outcomes of their negotiations, mediations, and settlement talks.

Kray, LJ, Kennedy, JA, & Van Zant, AB (2014). Not competent enough to know the difference? Gender stereotypes about women’s ease of being misled predict negotiator deception. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.