When Making Deals, Men Have a More Flexible Sense of Right and Wrong Than Women Do

Illustration for article titled When Making Deals, Men Have a More Flexible Sense of Right and Wrong Than Women Do

When you're negotiating with someone, it's often hard to know who you're dealing with. Are they honest or are they willing to lie, cheat, or steal to get what they want? Well, there's no surefire way to tell—until you discover later that you've been screwed over, of course—but the results of new research show that if it's honesty and ethical behavior that you want, you'd be better off negotiating with a woman.


That's right, a set of four experiments found that there's a bit of an "ethical gender gap" between men and women in business. The study's authors, Laura Kray of UC-Berkeley and Michael Haselhuhnof of UW-Milwaukee, concluded that, "Males more readily justify moral misconduct by minimizing its consequences or otherwise excusing it." The study also found "a robust pattern by which men are more pragmatic in their ethical reasoning at the bargaining table than women." In the various study scenarios, it emerged that men were more willing to do things like lie about having a competing offer—but, of course, they weren't okay with their opponent doing the same thing. Men also were comfortable making "false promises or misrepresenting relevant information" (aka lying) when it was in their best interest. Women were not. I guess that's why they say "liar liar pants on fire" and not "liar liar skirt on fire."

So why do men do all this ethical maneuvering? Well, it comes down essentially to the fact that they'll do anything to keep their masculinity from being threatened. If they find themselves in a situation where that's happening, they'll get more aggressive and competitive and do whatever is necessary to win. This sounds more like an observation that'd be made about a group of gorillas in the mist than about a group of people in a boardroom, but maybe there's not that much distance between those two places after all.


Anyway, to reach these conclusions, researchers used 115 undergrad business students, broken down more or less evenly between men and women. It's possible these results are exaggerated because overall business students have been found to be more self-interested and have "lower ethical standards" (ouch) than students in other majors. Thus, this gender gap might not be found in the whole population to such an extreme. However, since business majors usually grow up to be business people, you can probably assume the gender gap holds for the kinds of people you might be negotiating with. So, if you want to know you're not getting ripped off, see if you can find a lady to do business with.

Men's Morals Are Malleable [Pacific Standard]

Image via Stephen Coburn/Shutterstock.

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Or could it be that it's just more socially acceptable for men to behave this way in business, thus making it more likely that they will admit to the behavior? As a businesswoman, I've seen plenty of unethical behavior coming from all sides.