How to negotiate with a liar

Deception and half-truths are almost a given in many negotiations, Steve Kelman notes, but there are strategies that can maximize the other party's candor.

I suspect that most of us engaged in a negotiation assume the party we are negotiating with lies during the negotiations.  I am an unusually trusting if not outright gullible person -- a colleague once said that for me April Fool's Day was every day of the year!  But even I assume that others often lie during negotiations, at least by withholding the "whole truth," and often by actually misrepresenting their situations and how much they value certain things.

As Leslie John, a young faculty member at Harvard Business School, writes in a recent short article, "Deception is…one of the intangibles that negotiators have to prepare for and take steps to prevent."

John notes that people often assume the solution is to get better at detecting deception. Many of us feel it's possible to spot a liar through subtle behavioral cues, but evidence doesn't support that belief. On average, studies have found people can correctly identify whether someone lying only 54 percent of the time -- not much better odds than a coin flip.

Instead, John recommends focusing on efforts that reduce the tendency of negotiators to lie to those with whom they are negotiating. She presents strategies -- backed up by discussions of academic research on the topics covered -- that can help you conduct conversations in a way that makes it more difficult for your counterpart to lie.

Some of her strategies (I present here those I personally found most convincing) are as follows:

One way to reduce lying is to ask specific, direct questions to the party with whom you are negotiating. Consider an individual, John suggests, who is selling his business but knows that vital equipment needs replacing -- a problem imperceptible to outsiders. It might seem unethical for him to withhold that information, but he may feel that by simply avoiding the topic, he can charge a higher price while still maintaining his integrity. "If the buyer had asked me, I would have told the truth!" the seller might say to himself.

So ask. In one study, 61 percent of negotiators came clean when asked about information that weakened their bargaining power, compared to 0 percent of those not asked. (Thirty-nine percent still lied.)

Another study indicates people are less likely to lie if a question makes a pessimistic assumption ("This business will need some new equipment soon, right?") rather than an optimistic one ("The equipment is in good order, right?"). This may be because people will be inclined to agree with whatever statement the other party makes; giving them an opportunity to agree with a negative assumption produces more truthful replies than requiring them to disagree with a positive assumption.

Not surprisingly, people lie less to those they know and trust than they do to strangers. Good negotiators no doubt know this intuitively, but how can one produce more liking and trust in a negotiation situation?  The article discusses a piece of research where randomly paired participants who worked their way through a series of questions designed to elicit mutual self-disclosure were more likely to become friends than were pairs instructed to simply make small talk.

In one study, when questions were posed in a casual tone rather than a formal one, people were more likely to divulge sensitive information.

It is a common suggestion that a good approach in negotiating is to put "contingency clauses" in an agreement. This is recommended when the parties have different estimates of how probable a certain later outcome is.

Here's a simple example from government contracting: One party may want to negotiate a higher price because of that party's view that supplies may become difficult to procure, while the other party believes such disruption is unlikely and wants a lower price. A contingency contract where the price is tied to supply changes (or, easier, changes in the world market price) allows the parties to account for these differing predictions without destroying the possibility of an agreement. 

That approach is well known, but John's point is that a contingency clause also discourages lying. Suppose, writes John, your business is negotiating acquisition of a small start-up. Your counterpart gives you sales projections that strike you as optimistic or even impossible. You could propose a contingency clause that would tie the acquisition price to the sales level achieved. That would motivate your counterpart to provide realistic sales projections, and it would protect you if she's wrong.

Lying is a fact of life in negotiating. John makes some practical suggestions for how to reduce it.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.