Are you being hoodwinked?

By — on / Daily, Negotiation Skills

As a partner at your growing law firm, you’ve been charged with negotiating the lease of much-needed additional office space in your building. The real-estate agent has informed you that if you don’t increase your offer by $10,000 by the end of the day, you’ll lose the space to another company. Is she bluffing, or is she telling the truth?

Negotiators must constantly make decisions based on incomplete information. In this instance, it may be impossible for you to find out whether the other bidder exists. Furthermore, the use of deception is common in negotiation—and, unfortunately, most people are poor lie detectors.

When deception is a concern in your negotiations, try these approaches to ferreting out the truth:

Square verbal and nonverbal cues. Whenever possible, meet with your negotiating counterpart in person so that you can take in both her verbal and her nonverbal behavior—and any discrepancies between the two. When a potential business partner promises that financing won’t be a problem in your joint venture, is she nodding her head or shaking it? If you can’t meet in person, a video conference can be effective. By reviewing the videotape of a high-stakes negotiation, you can attempt to detect subtle signs of deception by watching body language and facial cues.

Remember, though, that folk wisdom about nonverbal signs of lying, such as lack of eye contact, or focusing on any single cue in isolation could lead you astray. You also should keep in mind that meeting face-to-face allows a deceiver to more easily assess whether you’re buying her lies.

Ask lots of questions. By asking many questions during a negotiation, you can increase the “cognitive load” of a possibly deceptive counterpart and increase your odds of exposing the truth. In particular, ask him to repeat information, ask for details about points that he should (or should not) know, inquire about several different topics in the same discussion, and ask questions out of chronological order. You also might ask easy questions for which he may not have prepared. And by asking follow-up questions that require elaboration, you create a dilemma for liars, who want to make a good impression by answering quickly but may be forced to stall to fabricate a response.

In negotiation, a healthy dose of skepticism will increase your ability to notice telling cues—and also make deceivers more anxious. Rather than asking yourself, Is she lying? ask, How confident am I that she is telling the truth?

from “Call Their Bluff! Detecting Deception in Negotiation,”

by Maurice Schweitzer, associate professor, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

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