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Women Fare Worse in Negotiations Because Others More Likely to Lie to Them

Jane C. Hu, Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California–Berkeley, writes in Slate why women fare worse in negotiations.  Simple.  People lie to them.

Researchers at the University of California–Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania asked MBA students to participate in role-plays of face-to-face negotiations. The faux negotiation took the form of a real estate deal, where one student played the role of the buyer’s agent and the other the seller’s agent. The seller’s agent was directed to sell to someone who wanted to keep the property for residential purposes, but the buyer’s agent knew that the client planned to turn the seller’s property into a tourist hotel and had been explicitly instructed not to tell the seller this information. Thus, the student playing the role of buyer’s agent had to decide whether to tell the truth, or to lie.

“We found that in the role-play, people were significantly more likely to blatantly lie to women,” says Laura Kray, the lead author of the study. “To women, for instance, the buyer’s agents would say, ‘They will be luxury condos,’ but to men, they would say, ‘I can’t tell you.’ ”

After the negotiation, students were asked to disclose whether they lied. Both men and women reported lying to women more often. Twenty-four percent of men said they lied to a female partner, while only 3 percent of men said they lied to a male partner. Women also lied to other women (17 percent), but they lied to men as well (11 percent).

Perhaps even more telling: People were more likely to let men in on secrets. “Men were more likely to be given preferential treatment,” says Kray. In several instances, buyer’s agents revealed their client’s true intentions to men saying, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but … ” This sort of privileged information was never offered to women.

Kray and her colleagues also asked students to rate the hypothetical buyers’ characteristics and found that participants perceived women as less competent than men (or a hypothetical person whose gender was not revealed). “When people perceive someone as low in competence and easily misled, they assume the person will not scrutinize lies, and that you can get away with [lying],” says Kray.