Hristina Nikolova, the Coughlin Sesquicentennial Assistant Professor of Marketing at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, recently co-authored a research article analyzing the correlation between gender and the joint-decision making process in the workplace. Published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Professor Nikolova’s study shows that compromise almost always occurs among two professionals when one or both decision-makers are female, but hardly ever when the pair of decision-makers are male.
Professor Nikolova’s article, “Men and the Middle: Gender Differences in Dyadic Compromise Effects,” asserts that “compromise effects replicate in the decisions of mixed-gender and female-female dyads, but are attenuated in choices made by two men.” To that end, differences in pairs’ vulnerability to the compromise effect are motivated by gender-based social norms that become activated in the decision-making process.
The study’s claims manifest themselves in an analysis of the male-female dyad and its behavior in the context of decision-making processes in the workplace. Nikolova explains that when two women make a decision together, female gender norms related to temperateness and equity promote compromise. In mixed-gender pairs, Nikolova asserts that men tend to accept female gender norms when making decisions with a woman, thereby more openly accepting compromise as a viable option in the decision-making process. However, when two men make a decision, “male gender norms related to dominance, assertiveness, and decisiveness are consistent with a greater degree of compromise alternative rejection than we observe in both other dyad types,” Nikolova claims.
In order to observe the male-female pair when faced with the prospect of decision making, Nikolova recruited willing participants through an online panel. The participants were asked to imagine a scenario in which a “male/female Matthew/Mary (a focal-decision-maker) was making a joint decision with a 30-year old male-female individual John/Jenny (the decision-making partner in the scenario).” Both participants enacted the role of co-owners in a business seeking to invest some of the company’s profits in stock. They had narrowed down their choices to three options: Stock A, the least risky stock offering the lowest return; Stock B, a stock with average risk and average return; and Stock C, the riskiest stock offering the highest potential return.
After the participants read the scenario, Nikolova requested participants to “evaluate the focal character’s suggestion to choose Stock B using seven items (S/he is compromising too much, S/he is giving up too easily, S/he is too willing to compromise, S/he is being a wimp, S/he is not acting like a real man, His/her choice of the golden middle is not a wise one, and S/he is striking a good balance).”
The results of the analysis demonstrated that the gender norm opposing men’s preference for the compromise option was more dominant in male groups than in others. Nikolova explained that these results served as evidence proving the hypothesis that males find compromising a less viable option when making joint decisions with other males (but not females). This effect, Nikolova explains, “does not emerge among women participants or when any member of the decision-making dyad is female. Rather, only male participants believe that males should compromise in front of other males.”
Professor Nikolova acknowledges that her work has both theoretical and practical implications for professionals in the workplace. She explains that the research article contributes to the existing compromise effect literature by being the first of its kind to evaluate its robustness in joint decision-making processes. Moreover, the study “bridges the judgement and decision-making and the social psychology literatures,” Nikolova asserts.
As far as practical implications of the research study are concerned, Nikolova states that a marketer’s reliance on the compromise effect to increase sales of profitable items by adding more costly options to the list of choice may not work as well in a heavily male audience. Similarly, Nikolova explains that the use of “good-better-best” strategies to pull customers toward target products may not work very well for male-oriented products that will be selected by pairs of male consumers.
Reflecting upon the results of her study, Nikolova ponders more opportunities for research about the compromise effect, adding that her research on groups made up of individuals who barely knew each other represents the first step in a lengthy process. “[I]t would be interesting to examine whether the male-male dyads’ aversion to the compromise option would emerge in the decisions of pairs with strong relationships,” she comments. “Further research can explore more options, such that our understanding of basis consumer phenomena can continue to accommodate ever-richer decision-making contexts.”