Negotiation Skills in Business Communication: Dishonesty and Negotiation Ethics
In all types of negotiations and across all phases of the process, people can sometimes misrepresent or fail to tell the truth. Individual negotiators lie with the hope of improving their own outcomes. When negotiating his salary with the Cranbury, N.J.–based pharmaceutical marketing firm Carter-Wallace in 1997, Robert Bonczek misrepresented his prior title and salary at DuPont. Once Carter-Wallace detected the deception, it withdrew its offer. Sometimes entire teams of negotiators lie [or was this just a bluff?].
In the union-management negotiations between the United Autoworkers Union (UAW) and Textron that began in 1994, Textron’s management team misrepresented its intention of hiring nonunion workers.
As a result, the UAW agreed to a contract that it later regretted accepting.
Given the challenges of detecting deception at the negotiation table, what can you do to protect yourself from being taken for a ride?
Negotiation Skills in Business Communication: Three Negotiation Tactics for Dealing with Dishonesty at the Bargaining Table
Here are three proven negotiation tactics for heading off and defusing lies at the bargaining table:
Negotiation Tactic 1. Develop a relationship.
Before negotiations begin, form a relationship with your counterpart by spending time together and sharing information. Take a potential business partner to a sporting event or out to dinner and try to get a sense of her character. The deeper the relationship, the more likely your counterpart will be to treat you like a friend (and the less likely she will be to deceive you) rather than like a passing acquaintance when you negotiate.
Negotiation Tactic 2. Meet in person.
To curtail deception, many negotiation scholars, including Leigh Thompson of Northwestern University, advocate meeting in person rather than communicating by phone or e-mail. The most useful cues for detecting deception are visual; therefore, meeting in person makes relevant cues more available. Even when we miss these cues, meeting face-to-face can curtail the risk of being deceived and yield important benefits. Potential deceivers are less likely to lie in face-to-face meetings because the perceived likelihood of being detected and the costs of self-regulation—concealing a smile, for instance—are higher.
Negotiation Tactic 3. Ask plenty of questions—and listen actively.
Before talks begin, identify key questions and guarantees that you’ll need from the other side. During negotiations, a deceptive counterpart may pretend not to hear a question or may answer a different question altogether. If so, keep probing; when dealing with a deceiver, you must be willing to repeat yourself. Note that most people (as well as the law) make distinctions between lies of commission—misleading others actively through overt statements—and lies of omission, or passive forms of deception. We tend to be much more comfortable avoiding a question or failing to correct a mistaken impression than we are actively misstating the truth. An entrepreneur may be happy to let you assume that this quarter’s numbers are just as great as last quarter’s were. But when you press him on the issue, he may become willing to reveal the actual state of affairs.
Adapted from “Negotiators Lie,” by Maurice E. Schweitzer (professor, University of Pennsylvania), first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
Originally published March 2010.