A disturbing report from the June 2012 issue of Scientific American suggests that in competitive negotiating situations, men are far likelier than women to engage in deceptive practices –at least in situations involving their perceived masculine identity. Two independent studies found that men were consistently “more willing than women to engage in shady tactics: they were more accepting of techniques like making false promises, misrepresenting information, and sabotaging their opponents. This was especially true for men who believed that negotiation prowess was an innate and integral part of their masculine nature.”
One of the studies concluded that “men’s moral judgments varied in such a way as to maximize their own advantage in each negotiation process; when necessary for personal gain, ethical missteps were acceptable. By contrast, women made similar ethical judgments across all perspectives. Even when the ethical choice was clearly detrimental to personal success, women maintained their ethical standards.”
I don’t write these reports or do the research; I just marvel at it.
A caveat: the studies focused on competitive negotiation scenarios. Failure in these historically male-dominated situations, the writer suggests, may be associated with diminished status, threat to professional rank, and – at least for some men – perceived weakness. The reporter proposes that “women may demonstrate similar vulnerabilities to their moral standards when faced with dilemmas that challenge their feminine competency or identity, or in arenas were women are (stereotypically) expected to be successful (e.g., skill as a mother, navigating social interactions, effectiveness as a writer).”
These studies shed light on the curiously matter-of-fact way in which many traditional lawyers accept puffery and downright misrepresentation during “courthouse steps” settlement negotiations as normal and appropriate ways to behave.
Could these studies also explain why the explosion of ADR settlement modalities in the legal profession during the last quarter of the 20th Century more or less parallels the explosion in female admissions to law school and to the practicing bar over that same period?