Negotiation research you can use: Are women more ethical negotiators than men—and if so, why?

By on / Business Negotiations


Men tend to claim more resources than women in negotiation, research shows. Why? Gender discrimination and men’s greater propensity to negotiate are two explanations backed up by recent research. In a new study, University of North Carolina professor Jason R. Pierce and Northwestern University professor Leigh Thompson identified another reason: men are more willing than women to behave unethically in negotiation.

In their first experiment, the researchers asked 172 Chilean undergraduate students questions designed to assess their competitiveness, their level of empathy, and their attitudes toward using unethical negotiating tactics. The men surveyed were more likely to condone unethical tactics, a result explained by their greater competitiveness; the men and women surveyed were similarly empathic.

In a second experiment, 129 students at a U.S. university were asked to imagine themselves in a negotiation scenario where they had an opportunity to lie to earn more money without the fear of being caught. About 50% of male participants said they would lie in such a situation, as compared to only about 29% of female participants.

Men also ranked as more competitive and less empathic than women, differences that contributed to their greater willingness to deceive. Similar results were reached in an online experiment conducted on 252 adult U.S. residents. (About 44% of men and 37% of women lied when given the chance.)

Taken together, the results suggest that men’s greater competitiveness and lower empathy relative to that of women plays a role in their greater willingness to use unethical negotiating tactics. But because many female participants in the experiments also were willing to behave unethically, the researchers caution that it’s more important to pay attention to the other side’s disposition—namely, how competitive and empathetic the other side seems— than to his or her sex when trying to predict whether he or she will behave unethically. To ward off unethical behavior from a counterpart, model a collaborative approach and highlight opportunities for value creation.

Resource: “Explaining Differences in Men and Women’s Use of Unethical Tactics in Negotiation,” by Jason R. Pierce and Leigh Thompson. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 2018.

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