Why you may be prone to hiring a liar, and not even know it

Study finds deception often viewed as a sign of competence in certain occupations

Chicago Booth’s Emma Levine finds ability to deceive is viewed as a sign of competence in jobs that require selling. Copyright shutterstock.com

Jun 11, 2019
Sandra M. Jones

We say we don’t like liars. But when it comes time to negotiating a big sale, it turns out we tolerate people stretching the truth—and even expect it.

New research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business finds that the ability to deceive is viewed as a sign of competence in jobs that require selling.

Asst. Prof. Emma Levine
In the study, Chicago Booth’s Emma Levineand Johns Hopkins University’s Brian Gunia find that people don’t always disapprove of deception. In fact, they perceive the ability to deceive as an asset in occupations that are stereotyped as high in “selling orientation.”

“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,” Levine and Gunia explain. “Companies expose themselves to greater risk by hiring deceivers.”

In two pilot studies, the researchers asked 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. In four subsequent studies, the researchers honed in on three occupations that are stereotyped as particularly high in selling orientation—sales, investment banking and advertising—and three occupations that participants viewed as relatively low in selling orientation—consulting, nonprofit management and accounting.

The researchers then ran experiments in which participants observed individuals lying or acting honestly in a variety of circumstances (for example, 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 individual 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.

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Why you may be prone to hiring a liar, and not even know it
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Why you may be prone to hiring a liar, and not even know it
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We say we don’t like liars. But when it comes time to negotiating a big sale, it turns out we tolerate people stretching the truth—and even expect it.