Anyone who has engaged in business knows that deception is pervasive in negotiations but with women its on another level. Sadly, those who engage in such, end up being sore losers.It doesn’t pay to deceive.Traditionally, business negotiations are normally characterised by information asymmetries, and negotiators often have both opportunities and incentives to mislead their counterparts. When it comes to companies negotiating with each other, effective negotiators need to contend with the risk of being deceived, to effectively respond when they identify deception, and to manage the temptation to use deception themselves. I spoke to an American criminologist on why deception is so common and has become mainstream in our daily lives.The American, told me that emotions are both an antecedent and a consequence of deception. According to her, understanding of deception in negotiations and accounts for the important role of emotions in the deception decision process.Negotiations, by their nature, tempt individuals into an ethical slide. Even the most principled negotiator would consider it acceptable to withhold some information from an opponent, just as a self protective strategy and revealing all opens the possibility that an opponent will take advantage of a negotiator’s honesty.So, negotiators are encouraged to adopt a morally pragmatic stance, openly sharing information only if they believe their opponents are trustworthy.This stance encourages negotiators to withhold or misrepresent information when the circumstances are right.
Recently, negotiation researcher told me he how he started to explore the conditions under which negotiators are more or less predisposed to use deception.Gender is among the variables in play. Two findings stand out according to him. Women rate the use of deception as less appropriate and less ethical than men and women elicit more deception from their negotiation counterparts. Should it follow then, that women will deceive their opponents less, and be exploited by their opponents remains a debate that I can’t manage to answer as I have no clue.What emerged from my recent conversation with the experts is a more nuanced picture.In my fact findings i asked the researcher whether the use of deception was affected not just by a negotiator’s gender, but also his or her opponent’s gender or whether negotiators were accommodating, placing priority on their relationship with their opponent, or competitive, placing priority on achieving the best possible individual outcome, or by how trustworthy an opponent was.According to the criminologist, all of those variables matter when women negotiate, but not when men negotiate.In my business experience over the years, I have learnt that men, in negotiations with other men, appear to operate in a flat decision landscape.As men, we do what we do, either deceive or don’t deceive, irrespective of our opponent’s strategy or trustworthiness.Others might say that men dominant concern is a utilitarian one in which the ends justify the means. And that this consequentialist approach over rides the nuances of the negotiating context.But this pattern changes when a woman joins the negotiation. When women and men negotiate,negotiators observe an interesting mix of pragmatism and opportunism.
Deception is relatively low and stable, except when opponents using an accommodating strategy are also seen as untrustworthy. What we see in these negotiating pairs is an ethical calculation, one that assesses whether the benefits of unethical action outweigh its costs.The benefit of deceiving an untrustworthy opponent is clear and it serves to protect negotiators from exploitation. And the costs are likely to be assessed as low when an opponent accommodates, because this is seen as a soft strategy which almost invites exploitation.Not only does the decision making process become even more complex when two women negotiate but a new variable, the type of deception, comes into play. Women are most likely to withhold information, a sin of omission, from an opponent when that person is untrustworthy and behaves competitively. This is moral pragmatism in action. But the decision to misrepresent information, a sin of commission, is more complex and suggests an opportunistic streak in all-female negotiations.Misrepresentation peaks under what I might consider the best of circumstances when an opponent is perceived as highly trustworthy and uses an accommodating strategy. No threat, no likelihood of exploitation and yet lying increases. This is the game of maximum benefits and minimum costs. However, deception goes down when opponents are competitive and able to sanction negotiators for acts of betrayal. In my dealings, I can confirm that women use a greater range of fairness principles than men, and modify their choice of fairness principles to suit the situation.Also, i know that negotiators need to be aware that the signals they convey about their trustworthiness may prime the other party to deceive them. More importantly, women need to be aware that impressions of trustworthiness, in combination with their strategy choice, have different consequences depending on who they negotiate with. Men, in negotiations with other men, operate in the most predictable social context and are at least risk of eliciting deception. Women, in negotiations with other women, operate a more complex and unstable social environment and are at most risk of eliciting deception.Therefore, I conclude that power of deception in women’s negotiation skills is next to none.