In Business Negotiations, 12 Strategies for Curbing Deception

By on / Business Negotiations

First published in the June 2014 issue of the Negotiation Briefings newsletter.

In negotiation, deception can run rampant: parties “stretch” the numbers, conceal key information, and make promises they know they can’t keep.

Unfortunately, most of us are very poor lie detectors. Even professions that encounter liars regularly, such as police officers and judges, do not perform better than chance at detecting deception, Professor Paul Ekman of the University of California at San Francisco has found. That’s in part because some common signs of deception, such as increased blinking and grammatical errors, tend to be quite subtle. In addition, there is often no way to determine with certainty whether a counterpart’s particular claim is true or not.

If we can’t count on being able to detect lies, a more fruitful approach may be to find ways to discourage our fellow negotiators from lying in the first place.

In a new study in the Negotiation Journal, researches Denise Fleck, Roger Volkema, Sergio Pereira, Barbara Levy, and Lara Vaccari proposed 12 moves that, some evidence suggests, could ward off deceptive acts in negotiation. These moves flag both the short- and long-term risks that unethical behavior poses to the negotiator’s goals and to the relationship. Some of the moves highlight potential benefits of behaving ethically; others emphasize potential losses incurred by dishonesty.

Here are the 12 moves:

1. Assure your counterpart that he will meet his goals.
2. Convince your counterpart that he is making progress.
3. Point out how your goals and your counterpart’s are linked.
4. Suggest that your counterpart has limited alternatives to the current deal.
5. Imply that you have strong outside alternatives.
6. Point out shared social identities (age, job history, marital status, etc.).
7. Encourage your counterpart to identify with an ethical organization, such as his trade group.
8. Note your connections to your counterpart’s social network.
9. Suggest long-term business opportunities you might offer.
10. Remind your counterpart of the legal implications of unethical behavior.
11. Mention the prospect of future personal or social support.
12. Propose becoming a gateway to valued social or business networks.

How effective is each move at curbing deception? That may remain to be seen. In a lab experiment that was part of their study, Fleck and her team found that when participants used these moves in their negotiations, they did so too late in the game to effectively deter deception and, moreover, sometimes combined them with their own unethical behavior. Thus, further research is needed to test the effectiveness of these moves.

However, it does seem likely that by using these strategies proactively throughout the negotiation process—and by holding yourself to your own high ethical standards—you may be able to promote more honest behavior from your counterpart.

Related Article: How Body Language Affects Negotiations


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


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