Gender and the Use of Deception in Negotiation - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #134

Gender and the Use of Deception in Negotiation

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Various factors affect the use of deception during negotiations. Could gender be one of them? Research suggests that men either deceive or do not deceive regardless of the other party’s strategy, whereas the probability that female negotiators will use deception varies according to their belief they will be ‘caught out’ by the party they are trying to deceive and their perception of the other party’s trustworthiness.


To an extent, all negotiations involve a certain level of deception; participants almost always withhold information as a self-protective strategy. After all, revealing all of your cards may leave you vulnerable if your opponent takes advantage of your honesty. But are there any differences in the way male and female negotiators hold back information? Does one gender use deception more than the other?

Mara Olekalns, Carol Kulik and Lin Chew considered these questions in a recent paper, where they looked at how the gender of both negotiating parties affects the use of deception during negotiations. They set-up simulated employment contract negotiations in which 120 students took part. Both same-sex and mixed-sex pairs were created and their negotiations monitored.

What they found is that differences in the negotiation styles and the concerns of men and women going into negotiations certainly do exist. “Men, in negotiations with other men, appear to operate in a flat decision-landscape” says Olekalns. “They do what they do, either deceive or don’t deceive, irrespective of their opponent’s strategy or trustworthiness.”

Meanwhile, when women and men negotiate, a mix of pragmatism and opportunism takes place. Women are more likely to withhold information from an opponent when they believe that person is untrustworthy and behaves competitively (a sin of omission) – moral pragmatism in action.

Moreover, when two women negotiate, a different type of deception also takes place:  misrepresenting information (a sin of commission), which suggests an opportunistic streak exists in all-female negotiations, especially considering misrepresentation peaks under the ‘best of circumstances’ (i.e. when an opponent is perceived as highly trustworthy and uses an accommodating strategy). In such situations, there is no threat, no likelihood of exploitation and yet lying increases. The only instance in which this is counteracted is when the party being deceived retaliates against negotiators for any acts of betrayal.


Negotiators should be more conscious about the signals they convey about their trustworthiness; without doing so, they may prime the other party to deceive them. As the findings of this study show, impressions of trustworthiness can have different consequences, depending on who you are negotiating with. In particular, as the number of female negotiators increases, the criteria that trigger deception also become more complex.

Men negotiating with men operate in a predictable social context, almost in a utilitarian fashion, approaching their strategic choices with the mindset that ‘the ends justify the means.’ As such, they at least risk of eliciting deception. On the other hand, women negotiating with other women operate in a more complex way and are at most risk of eliciting deception, as they are more concerned about what the other party’s intention may be.

An awareness of this can help negotiators better assess how well they are doing during negotiations; demonstrating that they will not tolerate betrayal or lying will help ensure they face comparatively less deception.



Sweet Little Lies: Social Context and the Use of Deception in Negotiation. Mara Olekalns, Carol T. Kulik & Lin Chew. Journal of Business Ethics (March 2014).

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Idea conceived

March 1, 2014

Idea posted

Apr 2013
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