Unethical Tactics in Negotiations – Is there a gender difference?


The consistency of this ethical difference has inspired numerous research studies to address why men (not all) are more willing to use unethical negotiation tactics than women. Findings suggest that two universal factors drive these ethical differences between men and women: agency (concern for self) and communion (concern for others).

Prior studies have tended to focus on either women’s higher moral standards as a function of their being more communal, or men’s lower ones as a function of their being more agentic.

More recent research more explicitly tested the hypothesis that both agency and communion explain differences in men and women’s willingness to use unethical negotiation tactics.

Across three studies conducted with three distinct populations, the research confirmed that competitiveness and empathy – subfacets of the gender‐related constructs agency and communion – consistently and independently explained men’s looser ethical standards.

Implications for Practice

This research has important practical implications for negotiators. It suggests that ‘agentic’ individuals who negotiate competitively, rather than empathically, are more likely to commit ethical violations.

This points up a potential solution for reining in unethical tactics. The findings suggest that ethically minded negotiators would do well to emphasize the importance of cooperation in negotiations to create value, rather than competitively trying to claim as much value as possible. Doing so, of course, comes easier when negotiators understand and believe that cooperative, value-creating approaches can and do lead to better outcomes for all parties than competitive ones. This is particularly so where there is a need to build an ongoing relationship (versus undertaking a one-off transaction).

The above extract is from recent research titled Explaining Differences in Men and Women’s Use of Unethical Tactics in Negotiations: J Pierce & L Thompson in Negotiation & Conflict Management Research, July 2018.

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