Negotiation Research You Can Use: Men, Women, and Violations of Trust

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In negotiation, there is almost nothing more upsetting than finding out that a counterpart betrayed your trust. In a new experiment, Michael P. Haselhuhn of the University of California, Riverside and his colleagues looked at whether there is a gender difference in people’s willingness to trust others following a violation of their trust.

Across their three experiments, women and men were similarly trusting of counterparts who had not given them reason to be distrustful. After a counterpart violated participants’ trust, both men and women were much less likely to trust that person going forward. However, more women than men were willing to trust the counterpart, especially following a promise to behave more honestly going forward.

In one of the experiments, for example, participants were asked to imagine that they were buying refurbished, “as is”–condition computers for their company. The supplier claimed that the machines were in good working order and sent them in two batches. Some of the participants were told that the computers in the first shipment seemed to be in good condition when they were received but quickly began to fail. A local repair shop reported that the computers had recently been serviced for the same issue. The supplier apologized, and there was no problem with the second batch of computers.

Men and women were similarly trusting of the company before they became aware of the problems with the first batch of computers, but men were significantly less trusting of the company after the problems became known. The researchers found that female participants’ greater investment in relationships as compared with male participants explained their greater trust.

Is women’s greater trust following a violation a pro or a con? That may depend on the context. When negotiators are simply competing for the best deal, women may be at more risk for exploitation than men. But in complex, multi-issue negotiations, women’s trust may be an asset. “Women’s relatively persistent trust may enable them to overlook minor misunderstandings or initial competitive posturing and collaborate with the other party to reach a creative solution,” write Haselhuhn and his colleagues, “whereas men may lose trust quickly and be less willing to collaborate with a counterpart after a minor violation.”

Resource: “Gender Differences in Trust Dynamics: Women Trust More Than Men Following a Trust Violation,” by Michael P. Haselhuhn, Jessica A. Kennedy, Laura J. Kray, Alex B. Van Zant, and Maurice E. Schweitzer. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 56, 2015.

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