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Published: January 8, 2009

 
 

Why We Lie in E-mail

People are more comfortable lying via e-mail than in pen-and-paper communication, despite the ease with which e-mails can be stored and searched.

Title:
Being Honest Online: The Finer Points of Lying Online in Online Ultimatum Bargaining
(Not available online; please contact the authors to receive a copy of the paper.)

Authors:
Charles E. Naquin, Terri R. Kurtzberg, and Liuba Y. Belkin 

Publisher:
Self-published (presented at the 2008 Academy of Management conference)

Date Published: 
August 2008

People are far more likely to lie in e-mail communication than in pen-and-paper communication, despite the fact that e-mails are harder to erase or keep from being distributed. The authors of this study set out to determine whether people felt more or less accountable for information shared in different forms of text communication. In one experiment, the authors asked a group of 48 MBA students to divide US$89 among themselves and a fictional party, where the fictional party did not know the amount of the payout and had to accept whatever was offered to him or her. An astounding 92 percent of the MBA students using e-mail misreported the size of the pot in order to keep more of the payout for themselves, versus less than 64 percent of students using pen and paper. In a subsequent experiment, the authors tested to see whether students would lie as frequently to people they know. Their findings suggest that students would lie with the same frequency, but the magnitude of their lies would decrease. 

Bottom Line:
People are more comfortable lying via e-mail than in pen-and-paper communication, despite the ease with which e-mails can be stored and searched. Managers should pay close attention to workers who use e-mail to negotiate with partners or ensure that both forms of text communication are used for important negotiations.

 
 
 
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