Friday, October 5, 2012

Lie to Her

This may or may not come as a shock: people think that women are more trusting. Laura Kray, professor at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, demonstrates that in negotiations such perception of women encourages people – men and women alike – to lie to their female counterparts much more than to males. So what can we do about it? Before we get there, let’s see how Professor Kray arrived at her conclusions.

First there was a survey that asked respondents to predict what kind of a negotiator either “Michael Taylor” or “Patricia Taylor” would be in a scenario where that hypothetical person was looking to buy the respondent’s car. With statistical significance, people whose buyer was “Patricia” were more likely to expect that she would be trusting, good-natured and well-intentioned. Those dealing with “Michael,” on the other hand, were more likely to expect that he would be hostile, aggressive, confident and skillful.  Well, how about that?

An attentive reader may say – but that’s because we’re talking about cars here, a stereotypically male subject. Fair enough. In her second study, Kray drew on three semesters of data from a negotiations exercise in an MBA program. In the exercise, students were either buyers or sellers of a property and all relevant facts were in the case itself, no outside expertise mattered. There was also an incentive for the buyers to deceive the seller with regard to intended property use, even though the buyer was also motivated by own reputation. Did the buyers lie?

Yes, yes they did! In their post-negotiation responses, buyers reported on their own truthfulness. Those who negotiated with a female seller were more likely to have lied. Similarly, the sellers were asked what their buyers had told them. Their responses were coded to show who was “lied to”, who was “misled” and who was “told the truth.” Consistently with the buyer self-reports, the women were more likely to be lied to, while the men were more likely to be told the truth. There was no difference among those who were misled.  By the way, the gender of the buyer did not matter – women were just as opportunistic with their fellow women as were the men.

Kray’s third study was a laboratory variation on the negotiation game. This time all the buyers were deceiving the sellers. Unbeknownst to the sellers, the buyers had instructions. This allowed Kray to see how the men and women reacted when they were, in fact, lied to. Women were worse at recognizing deceit, though it was tough for both men and women – 89 percent of women believed the buyers’ intentions, while 80 percent of men did. In addition, when the women asked questions to scrutinize the buyers’ claims, their trust increased. On the other hand, the men who probed the buyers became rightfully more skeptical.

So, ladies, we are likely targets of opportunistic lying. However, the awareness that Professor Kray’s studies bring give us a tool. As a woman currently taking a negotiations course, I will now be more vigilant. I’m not advocating for adoption of blanket distrust, but next time you get that hunch that the car salesman is ripping you off, you should look into it! 

Anya Malkov is an MPP2 at the Harvard Kennedy School, a WAPPP Cultural Bridge Fellow, and an alumna of From Harvard Square to the Oval Office

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