The Blog

Liar, Liar: Why We Should Wise Up to an Uncomfortable Truth When We Negotiate

We need to remember that negotiation sometimes requires us to behave in ways that might not come naturally to us. We might be confronted by negotiators who are firm, tough, direct or rejecting. How might that make us feel?

Readers of my previous articles will know that I have spent a number of years teaching people how to negotiate effectively and that I also have an interest in whether or not gender plays a role at the negotiation table.

It was therefore with great interest that I read a study that stated that women are more likely to be lied to in negotiations than men....and not just by men.

The research makes for very interesting reading. At first glance it could be viewed simply as yet another piece of evidence to suggest our gender could influence our outcomes at the negotiation table...yet I read it differently. I read it as a warning to all negotiators to not be complacent.

People don't always share our values

One of the key things to remember about negotiation is the 'human' side of reaching agreement or settling disputes. It is essential to remember the impact of feelings and emotions.

We need to remember that negotiation sometimes requires us to behave in ways that might not come naturally to us. We might be confronted by negotiators who are firm, tough, direct or rejecting. How might that make us feel?

We also have to consider Lies. Fibs. Dishonesty. Whatever you want to call it.

To be clear, I do not advocate that you have to tell lies in order to be an amazing negotiator. I raise the issue of lying because so many people feel so passionately that this is something they are not prepared to do...and that's fine.

What's not fine is assuming that everyone you negotiate with shares your ethics, boundaries or values.

What is a lie?

The fact is, people lie. It is very dangerous to assume that just because you are being 100% truthful when you negotiate, that your counterparty is doing exactly the same. It's also very interesting that what constitutes a lie can vary from person to person.

  • Some people view withholding little bits of commercial information as an intelligent strategy. Others view it as deceptive and underhand.
  • Some people are happy to tell little 'white lies' if it gets a result. Others view that as disingenuous or unethical.
  • Some people will tell a huge barefaced lie and view it as 'simply business'. Others view it as unacceptable and (possibly) illegal.

How do I know they are lying?

Put simply, often you won't.

It's not always easy to tell if someone is lying to you at the negotiation table...sure, you can read their body language, look for the signals in the words they use but that's not always fool proof...or easy.

For me the bigger issue is that you can't always know if someone is lying to you because they are highly unlikely to tell you upfront that's what they are doing. I don't know anyone who starts a negotiation with the line: 'Hey, just so you know, everything I say for the first 10 minutes or so is not true...just telling you upfront so we are clear. Keep pushing me and I'll get to the real numbers eventually'.

It's up to you to insulate yourself and your deal.

Get cynical:

So how do we deal with it? The simple answer is to get cynical. Don't automatically assume they are always telling you the whole truth just because that is a boundary you have set for yourself. At the negotiation table you have a responsibility to yourself, your client or the company you represent to try and get the best deal you can. This requires you to listen, push-back, ask questions, explore the limits and deadlines they give you. Test what they are telling you and you can start to feel more confident that they are telling you the truth. The fact is lies will often unravel pretty quickly if challenged, explored or unpicked effectively.

Men are not immune:

I said before that people lie. The research showed us that men lie to women and women lie to women. But let's not forget that men lie to men and women lie to men too. For different reasons, in different ways and to varying levels of severity, the fact remains that people lie. Men shouldn't read that research and consider themselves to be immune from deal-making deception.

As negotiators it's our job to stay alert, listen carefully, ask the right questions and be a bit cynical...Remember, everyone wants to try and get the best deal they can...and for some people, a bit of bending of the truth is an acceptable part of the ritual. Don't be a victim to it and don't feel you have to start to lie too. Just be aware it happens, even in the most collaborative of situations.