Recently the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation provided an article on this subject entitled, Moral Leadership: Do Women Negotiate More Ethically than Men? This article explores some of the key findings from this article, provides some additional thoughts and encourages you to provide your insights given your experiences. Ethical leadership is introduced from a specific text, key points from the article are summarized, leadership in a negotiation is considered, key elements associated with ethical negotiations are introduced, and in the end clarifications, intentions and motivations need to be carefully thought out regardless of who is doing the negotiations. 




In leadership having ethical principles is critical to success. In 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership the author of this book, Linda Fisher Thornton takes this on directly. She provides seven lenses for ethical responsibility. These are:

  1. Profit
  2. Law
  3. Character
  4. People
  5. Communities
  6. Planet
  7. Greater Good

She also offers 14 guiding principles that honor all seven lenses in daily leadership. She points out the importance of collaboration going forward in an increasing connected, diverse, world is necessary. The focus has to be on trust. This can only happen creating clarity around ethics. So now the question becomes of whether there are differences in leadership between men and women as each explores ethical principles when involved with a negotiation.


Harvard Article Key Points


Reviewing the article above and asking the question, do women negotiate more ethically than men, here are the articles’ key findings:

“Women are generally less accepting of unethical behavior than men.”

Women “tend to behave more ethically than men in a wide variety of contexts. “

“Women have been found to be less tolerant than men of a wide variety of unethical negotiating strategies.” In one study 25% of men used deception in negotiations compared to 11% of women.

“Women are more likely to be socialized to view themselves as interdependent with others and to be more attuned to relationships.”

“Men are socialized to define themselves as more independent.”

“Because people with stronger moral identities tend to behave more ethically, the researchers hypothesized that women would be more ethical negotiators.”

“The researchers found some support for their theorizing – but only up to a point.”

In one experiment women were found to be more open with candidates disclosing that a position they were hiring for would be eliminated in six months. However, when financial incentives were involved to negotiate the lowest salary with candidates there was no difference between men and women.       

Their conclusions were:

No matter a person’s gender, financial incentives can tempt them to take ethical shortcuts.

To encourage more ethical behavior, highlight the ethical concerns that surround upcoming negotiations and reduce financial incentives to behave unethically.”

Be careful here. Avoid stereotypes and generalizations. Note when money is involved, they found no real differences. Although there may some truth to the earlier statements presented here, all individuals are unique and we are all shaped by our experiences that develop our own ethical approach to negotiations.


How does this playout in the role of leadership in negotiation?


This article from the Harvard Business Review points out that leaders whether men or women tend to look out for their organization and to promote organizational goals. For someone moving up in an organization their personal goals may be related to salary, benefits, and perks. As these individuals attain leadership roles this may change to emphasize more responsibility, authority and obtaining the recognition of top leadership.  Power and influence may become stronger motivators.

Working with vice president level individuals in organizations I see their need to focus on their own suborganization and personal rewards and recognition. However, once individuals reach the C-suite level the focus changes to the overall organization. They each are motivated by what management has decided to incentivize. This points out the need to be careful with incentives.


What are key elements related to ethical negotiations?


Trust – without trust it is not possible to engage in ethical negotiations. Trust is key. By effectively listening to the other party to explore interests and then to help resolve interests with the other party in a negotiation it is possible to move the negotiation towards an acceptable solution.

Conflict resolution – When conflicts arise team members expect leaders to help in resolving issues. Focusing on the facts, the issues, the emotion and feelings behind those issues, and exploring interests leaders demonstrate ways to resolve conflict. The key is to ensure the parties are heard.

Direction – Understanding how the organization ethically states and carries out the mission, vision and goals of the organization and how this translates to day to day activities is key. Does leadership walk the walk or only talk the talk? Employees are watching. They see what really happens. That translates into how employees negotiate with each other and others.

These three elements are critical to be understood by all the parties to your negotiation.

There are two broad ethical approaches. Do the ends justify the means? Often the answer is yes if the ends are greater than the moral losses. Do we follow the rules? The answer here may be, it depends. There are questions between law and moral ethical rules. These are two primary ethical questions. As a starting point about half the population when pushed to the limit falls into one of two camps. Either the ends justify the means or the need to follow the rules.  There is no evidence this is gender based.         

Returning to are women more ethical than men in negotiations it appears who they are negotiating for matters.


Clarification, intentions and motivations


From the Harvard Business Review it appears that men are slightly more likely to lie in a negotiation to benefit themselves but not when representing others. By comparison women were slightly more likely to lie when negotiating for others. Given these slight differences, it may not be material. On the other hand, if financial incentives are not at play might women have a stronger emphasis to look out for the organization rather themselves. What does this imply regarding the statements earlier associated with “when financial incentives were involved to negotiate there were no differences between men and women”?

It is very important to determine how negotiators are incentivized going into the negotiation. As leaders and managers, we tend to measure things that are easy to measure. We tend to tie incentives to direct results. These may or may not be what was intended with the overall mission, vision, goals and ethical principles of the organization. What this tells us is there may be some differences, but when money, recognition, and rewards are involved there do not appear to be any significant differences between men and women.

Be careful of the generalizations. In day to day and less material negotiations there appear to be some limited difference between men and women as presented here. These limited differences should be noted, but given the size of these differences, they do not appear to be material in nature. When incentives are involved the implications to self or to the organization become less than any gender differences from the articles presented here.

What do you think?


About the author


Mike is a professional speaker, mediator/negotiator that helps clients resolve issues and be more productive as a conflict resolution expert with the IRS and others. Is conflict blocking your results? You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including, The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]