Women more likely to be cheated in business negotiations, Haas study says

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Women are more likely to be lied to at the negotiation table, according to a recent study led by UC Berkeley researchers at the Haas School of Business.

The study, published online July 14, determined that women are more likely to be lied to than men from a series of face-to-face negotiations among about 300 MBA students at Haas. Another part of the study found that if a woman is perceived as having low competence, she is more likely to be misled in a negotiation.

“It’s about if you think someone across the table from you is incompetent, and it just so happens that people think women are less competent than men,” said Laura Kray, a professor at the business school and the study’s lead researcher.

In the roleplaying scenario, 24 percent of men admitted lying to women, and women also lied to women 16 percent of the time. Conversely, women lied to men 11 percent of the time, while only 3 percent of men lied to other men.

The cultural stereotype is that women are “too nice” to accuse someone of lying, but the study found that whether or not women were lied to was rooted in how their competence was perceived by their negotiating partner, Kray said.

Participants in the study were given one hour to negotiate a real estate deal in which the buyer’s client intended to build a commercial high-rise hotel on the seller’s property, while the seller hoped to close the deal with a buyer who would use the property for residential purposes. The buyer had the option to disclose the client’s intentions or lie to secure the property.

If a buyer senses weakness, it becomes a high-stakes environment for the buyer to be opportunistic in making sure he or she executes the deal, Kray said. Additionally, the absence of questions from the seller to verify information is an indicator of someone who is less likely to scrutinize a lie and can be easily misled, Kray said.

“Women are being subjected to less ethical treatment,” Kray said. “It points to a broader sort of question about whether there’s an uneven playing field in business over ethical issues that relate to gender.”

The study also found that appearing “warm” in a negotiation was less of a liability for women than appearing incompetent, which was the bigger factor in being cheated in a negotiation.

But the stereotypes placed on women may not always be negative and can potentially be used to advance a deal, said Dana Carney, assistant professor at Haas.

“If you’re warm and motherly and social, people don’t think you lie,” Carney said. “On the surface, you can lie to her and she’s trustworthy, but beneath that stereotypical veneer, she’s a bulldog in sheep’s clothing.”

Contact Natalie Meier at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @nat_meier.