Men Are More Likely to Act Unethically on Their Own Behalf, Women on Someone Else’s

0
35


Alex and Laila/Getty Images

Research tells us a lot about why people behave unethically. For example, there is evidence that people tend to be more dishonest later in the day, because they’re more fatigued, and when they’re anxious, because they’re more likely to look out for themselves. Many of these studies, however, only look at the unethical actions people take on behalf of themselves. But what about the many times when we act on behalf of others?

We act on behalf of others in many domains: business, politics, law, the social sector, and others. Managers seek resources for their employees, for example. Lawyers represent clients in negotiations.

My research suggests that people acting on behalf of others can be influenced by the values and perceived expectations of those they’re representing—specifically when it comes to acting ethically. My colleagues and I were especially interested to know how this might apply to women. Research has found that women perform worse in negotiations because they face backlash for acting assertively – but that one way around this backlash is by advocating for others.

We conducted four studies to examine whether people were more likely to lie when negotiating on behalf of others than for themselves. We recruited a total of 1,337 participants to engage in negotiations, and we found that gender played a role in how we negotiate for ourselves and others. Men were more likely than women to lie when they were negotiating for themselves, but not when negotiating for others. But the reverse was true for women – women were more likely than men to lie when they were negotiating on behalf of others.

In one study, we randomly assigned participants to act in a property negotiation as a buyer or as an agent representing the buyer. We told them that buyers wanted to build a commercial high-rise hotel on the property, but that the seller would reject their offer if they knew about this intent. We found that female participants assigned to the role of a buyer’s agent were more likely to lie than those assigned to be the buyer (64.4% vs. 44.4%) about their plans for the property in order to get the deal done. On the other hand, men showed no statistical difference in ethicality when acting for themselves or for others (60.6% vs. 72.2%).

When we asked why participants made the decisions they did, we saw that women were more likely to report feeling guilty about letting down those they were advocating for. They were more willing to engage in questionable behavior because they anticipated feeling more guilt and worried about disappointing others.

Even though our studies focused on women, other research has yielded similar general findings that people tend to act unethically when representing others, if they believe they’re okay with it or prefer it. One set of research studies showed that “utilitarian” individuals, or those who typically engage in conscious cost-benefit analyses when making decisions (e.g., “What do I or society have to gain or lose as a result of my choices and actions?”) are more likely to act unethically if they are acting on behalf of someone else who shares a similar utilitarian approach, verses when working for someone who is more “formalist” (or focused on upholding rules/principles).

Unethical behavior on others’ behalf can spread from minor misconduct here and there to more consequential actions if expectations and norms allow for it. If it’s acceptable to cut minor corners on a client deliverable to make sure a consulting team meets a deadline, for example, that could lead one to engage in more drastic misbehavior such as misrepresenting firm capabilities to ensure the consultancy secures a lucrative account. Research shows that this slippery slope isn’t uncommon.

So how can we combat the tendency to behave unethically when acting on someone else’s behalf? Our research suggests a few approaches:

Aim for intentionality: At the individual level, it’s important to be aware of your motivations when advocating for others. Does your desire to support others lead to a “win at all costs” mentality? Will you feel excessive guilt if you fail to represent them well? Asking yourself such questions in advocacy situations will make you more mindful of your values and intents, and likely keep you in more ethical lanes of behavior.

Ask for clarification: If you’re not sure how ethical those you’re representing are, seek clarification. There can be significant ambiguity in real-world advocacy situations, and that can lead to erroneous assumptions about someone’s ethics and expectations, which in turn may lead to unethical behavior on their behalf. Break through the ambiguity by asking for clarification on expectations related to ethicality (“It’s not about winning at all costs, right?”), while sharing your own expectations.

State your expectations: When you’re representing someone, you should also be upfront about where you are and aren’t willing to go. Similarly, when you’re in a group being represented, make your expectations around ethicality clear to those acting on your behalf (“We need to do this by the book”). Don’t leave space for erroneous assumptions. Moreover, look for signs that a representative may be more likely to act questionably. For example, if someone is expressing feeling guilty about letting you down, step in and assure them that they shouldn’t feel pressure to act untoward.

While the tendency to act unethically on behalf of others exists, the good news is that you can act to prevent such outcomes.





Source link

قالب وردپرس

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here