Conflict Management: Do You Stretch the Truth?

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First adapted from “Do You Stretch the Truth?,” first published in the September 2012 issue of Negotiation.

Tell the truth: Have you lied to a salesclerk or service provider lately? Maybe you blamed a restaurant for messing up your reservation, though you suspect
you probably provided the wrong date over the phone.

Or, after missing a deadline to return a piece of merchandise, you might have tried to win a clerk’s sympathy—and leniency—by referring to a family emergency that never really happened.

At some point or another, most people resort to little white lies—or even big ones—when negotiating for what they want from an organization. Such lies are especially tempting in negotiations with someone we don’t expect to meet again. We worry less about inconveniencing people we don’t know than those we do, and we also have less concern about damaging our reputation in a onetime encounter.

Such lies may seem benign, but they impose actual harm, ranging from a minor inconvenience to a significant financial cost. How can you more closely align your negotiating behavior with your sense of ethics?

In a negotiation, our snap judgments are likely to be more biased and less ethical than our more reasoned thought processes, write Harvard Business School professor Max H. Bazerman and Notre Dame University professor Ann E. Tenbrunsel in their book Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It (Princeton University Press, 2011).

So, when possible, take time to think through how you will approach a pending negotiation over an item or a service, including how you will respond if the other party isn’t swayed by your arguments. With a little advance planning, you should be able to come up with a negotiating strategy that is both ethical and persuasive.


In our FREE special report from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School – The New Conflict Management: Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies to Avoid Litigation – renowned negotiation experts uncover unconventional approaches to conflict management that can turn adversaries into partners.


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