Aug 17, 2019 | Updated: 07:24 AM EDT

Study Finds Ability to Deceive is a Sign of Competence in Jobs That Require Selling

Jun 11, 2019 04:55 PM EDT

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Study Finds Ability to Deceive is a Sign of Competence in Jobs That Require Selling
(Photo : Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay)

Naturally, no one likes liars. However, in the event of negotiating a big deal, it turns out we have tolerance for those stretching the truth and even expect it. According to a new study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the ability to deceive is seen as a sign of competence in jobs that require selling. The researchers published their findings in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

The researchers of the study, Chicago Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science Emma Levine and Brian Gunia of John Hopkins University, discovered that people don't always disapprove of deception. Indeed, they perceive the ability to deceive as an asset in occupations that are stereotyped as high in "selling orientation."

In their words, Gunia and Levine explained that deception, in the form of fraud, embezzling, and corruption, costs the economy a great deal of money and undermines the economy's underlying moral fabric. Companies expose themselves to higher risk by hiring deceivers.

The researchers used the two pilot studies to ask participants to rate 32 occupations as "high" or "low" in selling orientation, reflecting the degree to which occupational members persuade others to make immediate purchases as part of their jobs.

The team made four subsequent studies, and they honed in on three occupations that are stereotyped as particularly high in selling orientation, sales, investment banking, advertising, and three occupations that participants viewed as relatively low in selling orientation, consulting, nonprofit management, and accounting.

Then, they ran experiments in which participants observed individuals lying or acting honestly in a variety of circumstances (for instance, when reporting their expenses after a business trip or when completing an economic game in the laboratory). Finally, participants judged how successful and competent a liar or honest individuals would be in occupations that were high or low in selling orientation, and, in two of the studies, whether to hire them into those occupations.

The key findings of the survey were participants believed that liars would be more successful in high-selling occupations like banking, advertising, and sales than low-selling orientation occupations like nonprofit management and accounting. Furthermore, participants believed that liars would be more successful than honest people in high-selling orientation occupations.

Levine noted that they discovered that people don't always disapprove of liars. Instead, they think liars are likely to be successful in certain occupations, those that do a lot of high-pressure selling.

The results of the study will help to explain why deception persists in some occupations because hiring managers and other organizational actors see deceivers as more competent for high-pressure sales roles, and hire them at an elevated rate.

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