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“Passing the Buck”: Incongruence Between Gender Role and Topic Leads to Avoidance of Negotiation


  • The author would like to thank Linda Babcock, Laurie Weingart, Hannah Riley Bowles, and Denise Rousseau for their extremely helpful comments on this manuscript. Data collection was partially funded by a grant from the Center for Behavioral Decision Research at Carnegie Mellon University.

Julia Bear, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15217, U.S.A.; e-mail:


Avoidance of negotiation is rarely investigated, and the implicit assumption guiding much of the current negotiation research is that engagement is inevitable. In addition, compensation is typically examined, although topics related to both employment and family life are also negotiated in organizations. Two experimental studies tested hypotheses about how incongruence between gender role and negotiation topic influences the likelihood of passing off the negotiation, i.e., “passing the buck.” In study 1, women were significantly more likely to avoid a negotiation about compensation than men, and aversion partially mediated this gender difference. Study 2 revealed a significant two-way interaction between gender and negotiation topic on avoidance. Women were significantly more likely to avoid negotiation about compensation than men; conversely, there was a trend for men to avoid negotiation about access to a lactation room, with the interaction mediated by aversion. The findings underscore the importance of both negotiation topics and avoidance.