Deceptive Tactics in Negotiation: How to Ward Them Off

Hoping to avoid facing deceptive tactics in negotiation? 10 strategies identified in recent research should help reduce the odds of being taken advantage of in your next negotiation.

By on / Negotiation Skills

deceptive tactics in negotiation

Deceptive tactics in negotiation can run rampant: parties “stretch” the numbers, conceal key information, and make promises they know they can’t keep. The benefits of negotiation in business offer strong incentives to detect these behaviors. Unfortunately, however, most of us are very poor lie detectors.

Even professionals who encounter liars regularly, such as police officers and judges, perform not much better than chance at detecting deception, Professor Paul Ekman of the University of California at San Francisco has found in his research. That’s in part because the most common signs of deception, such as increased blinking and grammatical errors, tend to be quite difficult to notice and interpret correctly. In addition, it may be difficult or impossible to determine 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 counterparts from engaging in deceptive tactics in negotiation in the first place.


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In a 2014 study in the Negotiation Journal, researchers Denise Fleck, Roger Volkema, Sergio Pereira, Barbara Levy, and Lara Vaccari proposed different negotiation techniques that could ward off deceptive acts and promote principled negotiation. These moves can flag your counterpart for both the short- and long-term risks of deceptive tactics in negotiation.

10 Moves to Reduce Deceptive Tactics in Negotiation

When you’re seeking to negotiate business contracts, the following 10 moves may foster honesty in your counterpart:

  1. Assure your counterparts that they will meet their goals. When you express optimism that you will both meet your goals, you convey that you view negotiation as a problem-solving (rather than winner-take-all) enterprise and reduce the likely of competitive—and unethical—moves.
  2. Convince your counterparts that they are making progress. It’s easy to lose sight of how far we’ve come in the thick of a negotiation. Pointing out the progress that counterparts have made will help increase their satisfaction, reduce their frustration, and help maintain a collaborative atmosphere.
  3. Point out how your goals and your counterpart’s are linked. Our goals are often more closely intertwined than we might expect, and it can be wise to suggest that if they try to take advantage of you, they may harm themselves in the process.
  4. Suggest that your counterpart has limited alternatives to the current deal. If you truly believe that your counterpart can’t get a better deal elsewhere, it can be useful to highlight this fact. The more committed the other party is to doing a deal with you, the more ethically they are likely to behave.
  5. Imply that you have strong outside alternatives. Hinting that you have a strong BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) conveys to your counterpart that perhaps you need them less than they need you. If this is indeed the case, the warning should further deter the other party from lying and other deceptive behavior.
  6. Point out shared social identities (age, job history, marital status, etc.). Bonding over your similarities will bring you closer together and may deter unethical behavior.
  7. Encourage counterparts to identify with an ethical organization, such as their trade group. Reminding negotiators that they’re accountable to certain industry standards should also help promote honesty.
  8. Note your connections to your counterpart’s social network. They’re less likely to try to deceive you if the news could get back to their friends and colleagues.
  9. Remind your counterpart of the legal implications of unethical behavior. You might also make a joint commitment upfront to negotiate openly and honestly.
  10. Mention the prospect of future personal or social support. Consider proposing becoming a gateway to valued social or business networks.

How effective is each move at curbing deceptive tactics in negotiation? That may remain to be seen. In a lab experiment, 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. Moreover, they sometimes combined these tactics with their own unethical behavior.

Further research is needed to test the effectiveness of these 10 moves at reducing deceptive tactics in negotiation. However, given the benefits of negotiation in business, you have strong incentives to try to promote more honest behavior and avoid failed negotiation by using these strategies proactively throughout the negotiation process.

What other strategies have you found helpful in deterring deceptive tactics in negotiation?

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