Negotiators Lie Through Their Teeth To Women, Study Shows

In a study published this month in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, UC Berkeley and UPenn researchers examined the role that gender plays in deceptive negotiations. Surprise, surprise: women get shortchanged more frequently than men. But this isn’t because women are worse at negotiating than men. As it turns out, everyone is just way more comfortable targeting women with blatant lies.

The idea for the study came out of Dr. Laura Kray’s personal experience that over the past 17 years, a striking number of female MBA students had complained to her about being lied to during the negotiation simulations in their business classes. Together with research partners Dr. Jessica Kennedy and Alex Van Zant, Kray set out to examine on a more systematic level whether women are more likely than men to be lied to during negotiations. The study was conducted in three parts:

  1. An online survey confirming the existence of a cultural stereotype wherein women are believed to be more easily misled in negotiations than men.
  2. An online experiment manipulating negotiator competence, warmth and gender to assess the influence of perception on negotiation behavior. Analysis showed that buyers’ perceived competence levels influence sellers’ ethical standards.
  3. An experiment using face-to-face negotiation role playing exercises with 298 MBA students to test the impact of deception on negotiation outcomes. Because women were told more blatant lies than men, they entered into more unfavorable deals under false pretenses.

In short: people view women as easy targets, so negotiators opportunistically lie through their teeth. Oh, the joys of being a woman.

Advice for stock photography businesswomen: always check behind your negotiation partner's back before agreeing to anything. Via Shutterstock.

Advice for stock photography businesswomen: always check behind your negotiation partner’s back before agreeing to anything. Via Shutterstock.

To be fair (ha!), this type of deception doesn’t happen in all negotiations — just ones where negotiating partners think they’ll be able to get away with it, or that the consequences won’t be too bad if they’re found out. This is most common in distributive negotiations, where one party’s financial gain in a transaction comes from another’s direct loss. Some common examples include:

  • Rent negotiations
  • Salary negotiations
  • Buying a car or home
  • Buying used furniture or fruit from the fruit stand guy
  • Booking a hotel or flight
  • Booking a car rental
  • Choosing a cell phone plan or credit card offer
  • Choosing a cable package
  • Getting work done on your car

And more. The internet can help a lot in these situations, but buyers are still very often sized up and served different prices. From the buyer’s end, it can be next to impossible to figure out which factors are taken into account in those equations.

Of all the frustrating truths this study reveals, I think what really seals the deal for me is that it wasn’t just men lying to women to get ahead; women also lied to women at near equal rates. Twenty-four percent of men said that they lied to women in the roleplaying exercise, while women lied to women 17% of the time. However, women lied to men 11% of the time, while men lied to men only 3% of the time. And men were more likely to be let in on secrets, which never happened to women.

Seriously, look behind their back! Via Shutterstock.

Seriously, look behind their back! Via Shutterstock.

I know some people will be inclined to read this as confirmation of all women as backstabbing bitches (because any excuse for misogyny, right?), but honestly, if I were in that business class, I could easily see myself tempted to behave in the same way. And I hate it, but on an individual level, I think those women kinda sorta did the right thing. Because if they hadn’t? They’d be playing right back into that tired stereotype: that women are terrible at negotiations. That women are too soft-willed to succeed in business. That only men have what it takes. Also: is it really fair to expect women to uphold higher ethical practices than men do?

When the patriarchy joins forces with capitalism, there are no just good choices for women. “Leaning in” isn’t enough to fix the problem. Then again, I’m pretty sure no single thing is.

Feature image via Shutterstock.

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Laura Mandanas

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 210 articles for us.


  1. This is shitty.

    I’d have to say, though, that the clear winner in this whole situation is Shutterstock.

  2. I feel like a lot of AS articles lately could fit under the “shit we already knew and now have documented proof of so when is this shit gonna end?” category.

    Great parsing out of the double standard at the end.

  3. The Life and Lies of The World.

    Also, guys. The car thing is so true. Mechanics, especially males will give you a hard time about your car even when you know all the things. Yup, serious. It’s happened to me so many times. Even following up is such a B.

  4. “Oh, the joys of being a woman.”

    Yup. But I’d still choose it over the alternative…

    …And I’d also rather get paid a bit less or have to pay a bit more than conform to a system that rewards lying and deceit. Would that it were otherwise…

  5. Car thing … totally happened to me, and when I called the guy on it, he tried to play it off. Fortunately, that made me belligerent enough that he just gave me my car back, didn’t charge me for the “inspection,” (and I use that term loosely because he didn’t actually tell me anything after having my car for an entire day), and I took it to another place where the mechanic/shop owner was super honest and reasonable.

    Something that I’ve experienced as both a human and as a professional — 90% of men absolutely HATE it when women call them on their bullshit or show them up. And if this happens in any sort of “professional” situation, they’ll consider you an enemy from there on out. It really sucks.

    • so true! I had a guy once sell me a car with ABS brakes… only when I looked for myself to double check I found it didn’t! oh yeah, he was real apologetic… uh huh… more like pissed off that I’d noticed and refused the car… he was a real *insert derogatory expletive here*

    • Currently really lucky with my mechanic who I just noticed painted and rust proofed a seam on my van whilst it was in for other work, didn’t mention it or charge for it. However I have lost track of the times I have called out mechanics and tradesmen on their BS…often in my own home. Once as I stood in my PJs, at 7a.m. in my kitchen, holding a puppy, I got sick of arguing with, and so screamed expletives at, a man working on the gas main in our street. He thought he could talk BS to me about how my gas meter was in the wrong place so he could shut off my gas permanently if he wanted to…once I pointed out that I didn’t put it there, nor did I ask him to work on the gas main or invade my home in order to do his job…punctuated with swearing…and that he better think again, he was shocked enough to arrange someone to move the meter outside.
      We got on great after that. I find there are two ways it can go, you get respect or they get pissed. Working as a woman in a business full of men also had me learn how often your option on technical matters is negated if you are female, regardless of which gender your customer is. My gf had the same. When you prove you know more than them it’s the same, respect or rage.

  6. Regarding the conclusion, I’m not entirely convinced that deception as a way to get ahead is an ideal method for success neither. There’s already the widespread notion that women are deceptive and not to be trusted, so intentionally deceiving the women you’re dealing with may seem like completely justified comeuppance. It’s beyond terrible.

    Personally when dealing with others I just play with all my cards face up, and by example demonstrate that I know what the hell I’m talking about. So, being forthright and confident, but not trying to screw somebody over for cheap short term gains. It’s cheesy I guess, but I have super low tolerance for general bullshit.

  7. This isn’t about negotiation, per se, but it’s related and came to mind when I read some of the comments on this thread.

    A few days ago I responded to an online ad about buying a used motorized baby swing. The woman I corresponded with was very friendly and accommodating, but I had to deal with her husband when I got to the house – about a 45-minute drive – to check it out. The first thing I did was ask how it worked and he explained to me the functions without actually pressing any of the buttons. I think he noticed my hesitation and admitted the batteries were dead.

    “So…it doesn’t work…” I said, annoyed that his wife hadn’t mentioned in any of our correspondence that I couldn’t actually witness it in action before I was supposed to hand over my money.

    “It works!” he said defensively.

    “…but you can’t prove it.” That afternoon I’d read some reviews for the swing and remembered that several people had complained that the motor had unexpectedly died on them.

    He looked up at me and asked, “Do we have a problem? Because you can leave my house at any time.” I thought my tone had largely concealed my annoyance, so the blatant hostility in his face shocked me. I tried to stammer something about testing used electronics before buying them, but he kept cutting me off with lectures (“You have an attitude problem”) and threats to throw me out.

    At one point there was this dramatic pause when he said there were batteries upstairs and I tried to swallow my pride long enough to get this over with. But when he started muttering again – “I invited you into my HOUSE-” – I couldn’t help trying to convey again – Calmly! Politely! – that it wasn’t personal, I just didn’t think mine was an unreasonable expectation. We talked over each other for another few seconds until finally he asked me for about the third time, “Do you need to leave?”

    I was sick of this bully. Fuck the damn swing, the low-income family I was buying it for, and the gas money it took to drive out there. Bewildered but still calm I answered, “Apparently I do.”

    As he escorted me out he had his wife on the phone saying angrily that I was leaving – pause – “because she has an attitude problem. She’s accusing us of selling something that doesn’t work.”

    I was so frickin’ annoyed but I was also genuinely frightened that if I actually showed some of the anger I was feeling, the guy would slug me; he seemed that wound up.

    I’m still perplexed when I think of that guy’s defensiveness – maybe he’s a hothead, maybe he had an exceptionally stressful day – but I can’t shake the belief that I never would have been treated like that if I’d been a dude. Seriously? Asshole.

  8. During a recent negotiation, I prepared by asking coworkers in similar positions of their pay grade. Of course, the boss said those people were “wrong” about what they told me and tried to get me for less.

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