Are you will­ing to stretch the truth while negotiating?

A woman who is nego­ti­at­ing on behalf of some­one else will lie at rough­ly the same rate as her male coun­ter­part. But, if she is nego­ti­at­ing on her own behalf, she is much less like­ly to deceive.

By Emily Ayshford

Imag­ine you’re a real estate agent, sell­ing a house with a leaky roof. Do you reveal that fact to poten­tial buy­ers? The answer may dif­fer depend­ing on your gender.

Men are more like­ly than women to lie and say the roof is in great shape — an instinct that tends to be the same whether men are sell­ing a client’s house or their own.

But for women, there is more nuance to the answer, accord­ing to new research by Maryam Koucha­ki, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment and orga­ni­za­tions at Kel­logg. A woman who is nego­ti­at­ing on behalf of some­one else will lie at rough­ly the same rate as her male coun­ter­part. But, if she is nego­ti­at­ing on her own behalf, she is much less like­ly to deceive.

“Women feel they are under pres­sure. They think, ‘I’m going to let that per­son down unless I deceive,’” Koucha­ki says. That feel­ing of guilt may cause them to stray from their core val­ues and deceive on behalf of a client.

The Role of Guilt in Negotiations

Pre­vi­ous research on com­pet­i­tive nego­ti­a­tions reveals inter­est­ing gen­der dif­fer­ences. Men, for exam­ple, report low­er per­son­al eth­i­cal stan­dards while nego­ti­at­ing than women do. And women feel com­pelled to nego­ti­ate less assertive­ly based on society’s expec­ta­tions of women.

But one sit­u­a­tion seems to even the play­ing field: when women nego­ti­ate on behalf of oth­ers.

Women in advo­ca­cy roles are get­ting as much done as men,” Koucha­ki says.

Koucha­ki and coau­thor Lau­ra Kray of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley won­dered why this was the case. Specif­i­cal­ly, they won­dered about the role of guilt. Could the guilt attached to not doing every­thing pos­si­ble to help a client, no mat­ter how uneth­i­cal it might be, lead women to act against their own moral com­pass?

After all, research has shown that women are sig­nif­i­cant­ly more guilt-prone than men. But guilti­ness is not always bad — it can rein­force moral behavior.

A lot of research shows that guilt can be a pos­i­tive force. Guilt-prone peo­ple are like­ly to be more eth­i­cal,” Koucha­ki says. But, there’s a pos­si­ble twist. If women feel guilty about doing the eth­i­cal thing, then  guilt can lead to bad behavior.”

How Appro­pri­ate Are Decep­tive Nego­ti­at­ing Tactics?

To test their idea, the researchers recruit­ed 174 par­tic­i­pants to com­plete an online ques­tion­naire in which they rat­ed the appro­pri­ate­ness of decep­tive nego­ti­at­ing tac­tics such as mak­ing false promis­es or brib­ing peo­ple to get infor­ma­tion about oppo­nents. Half the par­tic­i­pants rat­ed the state­ments as though they were nego­ti­at­ing for them­selves, and half as though they were rep­re­sent­ing a friend.

Women rat­ed the decep­tive tac­tics as more appro­pri­ate to use when nego­ti­at­ing on behalf of some­one else than for them­selves, while men rat­ed the tac­tics equal­ly, regard­less of their role.

In anoth­er, sim­i­lar study, women report­ed feel­ing a high­er expec­ta­tion to lie when nego­ti­at­ing on behalf of a friend than for them­selves, while men report­ed the same lev­el of expec­ta­tion to lie in both sce­nar­ios.

The researchers won­dered whether these beliefs would trans­late to actu­al actions dur­ing a nego­ti­a­tion sit­u­a­tion. To find out, they recruit­ed male and female par­tic­i­pants for an in-per­son role-play­ing nego­ti­a­tion.

Approx­i­mate­ly half of all par­tic­i­pants were assigned the role of a buy­er who want­ed to pur­chase a piece of land to build a high-rise hotel; the rest were instruct­ed to act as that buyer’s agent. Then par­tic­i­pants inter­act­ed with a sell­er — actu­al­ly an actor fol­low­ing a script — who demand­ed that the prop­er­ty be used only for res­i­den­tial pur­pos­es. Would par­tic­i­pants lie about their plans for the prop­er­ty in order to get the deal done?

Over­all, 66 per­cent of male par­tic­i­pants lied to the sell­er, com­pared to just 54 per­cent of female par­tic­i­pants. For men, the rate of lying did not change much whether they were act­ing as buy­ers or agents. But for women, the sto­ry was quite dif­fer­ent. When act­ing as a buyer’s agent, women lied at rough­ly the same rate as did men. But when rep­re­sent­ing them­selves, only 44 per­cent of women lied.

An Expec­ta­tion to Lie

So women lie as much as men do when they are act­ing on behalf of oth­ers — at least in part because they feel like they are expect­ed to do so. But where does this expec­ta­tion come from?

In anoth­er study, near­ly 400 par­tic­i­pants read a sce­nario involv­ing sell­ing a used car — either their own or a friend’s — that had a known defect. Par­tic­i­pants in each group were divid­ed in half, with one half rat­ing their lev­el of agree­ment with state­ments about how they would feel if they did reveal the defect, and the oth­er half rat­ing state­ments about how they would feel if they did not reveal the defect. All par­tic­i­pants also rat­ed their agree­ment with moral state­ments such as,  Omit­ting some infor­ma­tion is just a way of get­ting a fair deal.”

The researchers found that, when rep­re­sent­ing oth­ers, women antic­i­pat­ed feel­ing more guilt when they told the truth about the car’s defect — sug­gest­ing their guilt stemmed from let­ting down the sell­er. Yet women rep­re­sent­ing them­selves expe­ri­enced the oppo­site, antic­i­pat­ing feel­ing more guilt for deceiv­ing the buy­er than for telling the truth.

Inter­est­ing­ly, the researchers found that women dis­agreed with immoral state­ments equal­ly, whether they were rep­re­sent­ing them­selves or others.

Whom You’re Nego­ti­at­ing for Matters

The final study looked at whether women’s advo­ca­cy behav­ior would change if they were nego­ti­at­ing on behalf of a man ver­sus a woman. Par­tic­i­pants played a role-play­ing game where they com­pet­ed either on behalf of them­selves or on behalf of a part­ner they had just met. The game was set up so that par­tic­i­pants could earn small amounts of mon­ey, which cre­at­ed an incen­tive to lie.

When women rep­re­sent­ed a male part­ner, they lied 68 per­cent of the time, com­pared to lying 42 per­cent of the time on behalf of a female part­ner. (Men’s decep­tive behav­ior did not change based on the gen­der of their part­ner.)

Koucha­ki the­o­rized that women feel more oblig­at­ed to lie for their male clients since they tend to think a male client is more like­ly to expect decep­tion than is a female client, and thus the guilt of not doing so dri­ves them to be decep­tive.

Even if women have high moral stan­dards, there are traps where guilt can lead to bad behav­ior,” Koucha­ki says.

Over­rid­ing the Feel­ing of Pres­sure to Lie Dur­ing Negotiations

While elim­i­nat­ing gen­der dif­fer­ences sounds, on the sur­face, like a good thing, it becomes prob­lem­at­ic if women are feel­ing coerced into behav­ior that goes against their own beliefs or moral com­pass.

Giv­en that, man­agers should be clear about expec­ta­tions to ensure that they are not sig­nal­ing to employ­ees that it is OK to be decep­tive in order to get results.

Even good peo­ple with high stan­dards can have their behav­ior changed by a man­ag­er,” she says.  They could feel pres­sure to deceive.”

And those who have found them­selves caught up in a nego­ti­a­tion where they deceived, despite hav­ing a strong moral core, should reflect on that as a way to improve next time.

I believe in a learn­ing ori­en­ta­tion for moral­i­ty,” Koucha­ki says.  There are not good peo­ple or bad peo­ple. You learn and get feed­back. You con­tin­u­al­ly grow over time.”

Emily Ayshford is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist at Concrete Communication in Chicago.

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