Over the last 17 years, Professor Laura Kray noticed that a striking number of female MBA students complained about being lied to during the negotiation simulations in her business school classes. When more and more women, frustrated by the deceptions routinely occurring in these role plays, began to pour into her office after the exercise to vent, Kray decided to find out if this is true on a more systematic level: Are women more likely than men to be lied to during negotiations?
The short answer is yes.
"I think there's very clearly a cultural stereotype that women are more easily misled," Kray, a Warren & Carol Spieker Professor of Leadership at Berkeley-Haas, told The Huffington Post.
Kray and her research associates, Jessica A. Kennedy and Alex B. Van Zanta, set out to prove that women are perceived as less competent than their male counterparts and will therefore be lied to more often, in their study published in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes journal this month. After collecting data from online surveys, the researchers established that there is a stereotype that women are more likely to be misled. This, in turn, puts them at risk for opportunistic deception, from misleading information to flat-out lies, during negotiations.
Once this was established, Kray and her associates analyzed data from actual negotiation simulations in the MBA classroom. Students had the opportunity to either tell the truth, misrepresent information or tell a lie about their intentions in order to lure the person playing the "seller" into a deal during a mock real-estate negotiation. As expected, female negotiators were deceived much more often than male negotiators were, causing women to enter deals under false pretenses more often than men did.
The worst part? Kray noted that many of the lies told to women weren't just lies of omission or even attempts at misleading -- women faced a significant amount of blatant lies when men in the same situation were told the truth.
"It explains why it's not so easy to 'lean in' all of the time," Kray said. "Women are leaning in and navigating many more land mines than men are."
Glo Harris, an executive coach who works with Fortune 100 and 500 companies in Oakland, CA, told The Huffington Post that one reason for this behavior bias might be that women aren't just seen as less competent, but they're also viewed as more compassionate and forgiving, especially when it comes to lying. From her 25 years of corporate experience, she postulated that women often find out they've been lied to -- much like the female students in Kray's classes -- but they don't seem to retaliate in the same way a man would.
"Women will be more sensitive and not humiliate the person publicly for lying," Harris said. "I think the projection on women is that it's easier to lie to us because the consequences won't be so great."
Plus, when it comes to perception of competence, men are better than women at "faking it until they make it," Harris said. (And unfortunately, there are studies to back up her anecdotal observation.)
One way to counteract this bias, according to Harris, is to start by modeling ethical behavior yourself, which will hopefully deter would-be liars. She also suggests changing your mindset -- you know, getting better at that "faking it" part -- and making sure you're a respected presence at work by speaking up at meetings.
But Kray noted that, in her experience, the most important step you can take is to simply prepare before entering into any negotiation.
"We need to draw from this growing knowledge base about how we can build our sense of power and our sense of competence," Kray said. "That means practicing before you go to the bargaining table. It means having your questions laid out in front of you so you have guidelines that you can stick to in terms of scrutinizing and asking for verification. It means really signaling a willingness to push back."