Research: Women Face Dishonesty More Often than Men During Negotiations

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In a study to be published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers found that women are usually at a disadvantage during negotiations. 

“We found that men and women alike were targeting women with more deception than men,” said Jessica Kennedy, assistant professor of management at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management and co-author of the new research. “It was interesting that men and women alike tried to deceive women in negotiations.”

Low Expectations for Women

Low expectations for a negotiator’s competence drove deceptive intent. Perceptions of “warmth”–or likability–reduced deceptive intent, even though warm negotiators were perceived as easier to mislead.

In one of the studies, MBA students held mock real estate negotiations where it was left to the buyer whether to reveal that the “real” intention for the use of the land in question contradicted the seller’s wishes. Buyers admitted to being deceitful to 22% of female sellers, compared to 5% of male sellers.

Further investigation found that the deceptions were crimes of opportunity. Women at the negotiating table were perceived as easier to deceive than men, so therefore standards of propriety slipped as the fear of being caught dissipated.

We measured a number of different things, and what kept popping up is people expected women to be easier to mislead than men.“Two experiments were simple scenario studies where we put people in a hypothetical situation where they imagined they had something to sell,” Kennedy said. “Then we manipulated only the name of the potential buyer. We measured a number of different things, and what kept popping up is people expected women to be easier to mislead than men.”

Whether the gender stereotype of women being easier to mislead is accurate is an open question, Kennedy said.

“Men and women alike are poor at detecting deception,” she said. “Past work has established that women are better at decoding nonverbal cues than men, though no better at catching a liar.”

Upset the Stereotype

Kennedy said women can try to upset the stereotypes to combat this form of discrimination.

“Stereotypes are difficult to disconfirm, but I think we can train women to exhibit characteristics in negotiations that suggest they’re not at all easy to mislead,” she said. “If we have women persistently questioning information, asking for verification from multiple sources, writing critical things in contracts and signaling a willingness to retaliate to deception, I think that should help to disconfirm this stereotype.”

Kennedy conducted the research with Laura J. Kray, holder of the Warren E. and Carol Spieker Chair in Leadership at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, and Alex Van Zandt, a Ph.D candidate at Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley.

This article was reprinted with permission of Vanderbilt University. See the accompanying video on

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