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How to Deal with Deception During a Negotiation

Tell a lie once and all your truths become questionable.

Secrets and lies kill relationships. No matter how careful you are, you will get caught.

They who tell a lie is not sensible of how great a task they undertake: for they must be forced to invent twenty more to maintain that one. - Alexander Pope.


It is not uncommon to have one or more negotiators engage in some form of deceit. They may consider it puffing or slight exaggeration. It may be received as lying. This needs to be managed by the effective negotiator.

An effective negotiator does not use deceit as a strategy. Instead they seek to gain a reputation as an honest broker.

What is Lying?

Step 1: The definition of deception

The act of deceiving; the state of being deceived.

something that deceives or is intended to deceive; fraud; artifice. (Webster)

Synonyms: betrayal, deceit, disinformation, duplicity, falsehood, hypocrisy, lying, mendacity, treachery, untruth, and trickery.

Step 2: Distinguish between facts and perspectives. Perspectives are opinions or views. These perspectives should be valued because they may affect the negotiation. It is senseless to waste time trying to secure agreement on perspectives.

Example perspectives:

- This is a dismal day.

- This agreement is not fair.

- Negotiator A has more power than Negotiator B.

Facts are proveable and supportable.

Example facts:

- We received four inches of rain today.

- It is 75 degrees now.

- This tree is 25 feet tall.

Mason Dixon Jar Negotiation case aka The Carton Case

This case was developed by the University of Missouri and is used in many law classes. It involves a buyer (B) who needs to purchase from seller (S) cartons to package their jars.

Example lies:

- S has 6,000 cartons in their supply room, but S tells B they have none.

- B has interviewed other sellers, but B tells S that they have not consulted any other company.

- B’s current supplier has gone bankrupt but B tells S that all is well with their present supplier.

- S tells B that if they secure this contract they will have to hire new workers but presently S has enough employees.

These types of lies can derail the negotiation or can mislead the negotiation.

Step Three: Do some thinking and research in regards to intent of the negotiator who is or has deceived. Many times, this negotiator was relying on faulty information given to him or her by others. Maybe the negotiator themselves created the false information mistakenly.

Why do people lie?

- Habit/Behavior: Possibly lying to this negotiator is a habit. The habit is a behavior that becomes automatic. Behaviors can change if one first decides to change and then concentrates on this change. Some estimate that it takes 3-6 months to change this type of behavior.

- Every negotiator does it: Some negotiators justify lying by stating that all negotiators lie. They believe that lying is simply part of “the game.” They think that lying is standard and expected.

- Power imbalance: Sometimes they justify lying by noting the power imbalance so they believe that lying might balance the power leading to better outcomes for them.

-Their lying will not be discovered. Some, maybe based on past experiences, believe that their lies will not be discovered.

- Not important: Some may justify lying by stating that they are not important or vital to the negotiation.

- No ramifications for lying-No harm done: Some may state that based on their experiences, there have been no negative consequences to lying so basically they believe no harm is being done.

- Deceit as an influence strategy. Authors Arthur H. Bell and Dayle M. Smith in their book Winning With Difficult People assert that some difficult people use deceit as an influence strategy: “Manipulation through untruths.”

The Truth Continuum

One might view truth and lying on a continuum. Most do not see lying as blackand white.

Truth…Exaggerating…Puffing/Bluffing…White Lies…Misleading…Not truth telling… Lying.

How to deal with deceit in a negotiation.

How to manage may differ according to when the falsehood is discovered. Many times based on effective planning and research the deception is discovered during the negotiation. If so:

Give them an “out.” Maybe the negotiator realizes that deception is not working or is not a good strategy. The other negotiator should be gracious and allow them “an out.” Maybe they will say something along the lines of "that previous statement is no longer operable."

Present the lying negotiator with more information. Sometimes it helps simply for egotiator A to give more information to Negotiator B. In the ideal, with this new information, B realizes that they are giving erroneous information.

An old saying comes to mind: A person pushed against their will is of the same opinion still.

Thus, if Negotiator B comes to the realization that they need to correct information, that is great.

Confront the lies. Sometimes it is necessary to confront the substance of the lies. Negotiator A should not call Negotiator B, a liar, but instead, focus on the false facts.

Terminate the negotiation. It is challenging and sometimes impossible to negotiate when the information presented is not true. Sometimes, it is necessary to simply end the negotiation.

The difference between being open and being honest.

It is important in negotiation to distinguish between openness and honesty. It is important to “un-pair” these two terms.

Honesty is a major component of the negotiator’s reputation. Most negotiators desire to be known as honest brokers. When they say something or give some information, the other negotiators can depend on it.

Openness is strategic. In the ideal negotiation, all parties are open about all information. This makes for a smooth negotiation. But the openness needs to be reciprocal. If negotiator A gives some information then A expects some return information. If negotiator B does not reciprocate, then effective negotiator A does not give more information. A needs to figure out why B is not reciprocating. Does B not trust A? If that is the issue, then A needs to use their people skills to gain trust. If B has a negotiation strategy of not giving information, then this will be a tough negotiation.

Is there the assumption that people are inherently evil or good?

Author Dan Seidman in The Secret Language of Influence urges negotiators to check their assumptions about people.

- Are they inherently good?

- Are they inherently evil?*

If people are inherently good, one would expect these folks to be honest because it is the right thing to do. They are basically straightforward. They are respectful. They expect that all people want to do the best. They are ethical. They do the right thing.

If people are inherently evil, they are probably selfish. They want the best for the least. They are rule benders. They don’t play fairly. They are deceitful. They hide behind voicemail or gatekeepers. They are untrustworthy, thinking that any information shared would hurt their negotiations.

He concludes by urging folks to take the high road and assume negotiators are good until they show their true colors.

*The term “evil” seems a bit extreme but the dictionary describes bad, poor, wicked as synonyms.

A cultural look at deception, facts, etc.

According to Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway in Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands-Doing Business in More Than 60 Countries:

Brazil: “Facts are admissible as evidence, but they may change with the needs of the negotiator and they seldom overrule subjective feelings.”

Italy: “Italians who have a higher education tend to use facts to back their arguments.”

Japan: “The Japanese may rely more on their feelings than on facts, because they tend to be more subjective than objective.”

Saudi Arabia: “Generally, a Saudi’s faith in Islamic ideologies shapes the truth, but it is also affected by the immediate feeling of the participants. Reliance solely on objective facts seldom overrules a Saudi’s feelings and faith in a decision.”

Argentina: “Facts area always acceptable as long as they do not contradict either feeling or faith.”

First, it is clear that these statements are generalizations.

Second, it is also clear that this area of truth, deception, facts, perspectives, etc. are very challenging when negotiations cross cultures.

The case against lying as a negotiation strategy.

The most important case against lying is the erosion of trust. Trust is essential for the negotiator’s reputation. Trust is the bedrock of being able to be persuasive. Some say that the best case against lying is that most cannot remember their lies. Usually one can remember the truth because it actually happened.


DC based retired management expert James Crawford:

In the context of negotiation one possible aim is to mislead the opposition. Lying and deception may be synonymous but the aim is to deceive.

Attorney, mediation and adjunct professor Terry Wheeler offers the following:

It may also make a difference if you are discussing legal negotiation or non-legal negotiations as ethical lawyers must comply with professional standards of conduct that do not allow lying about material facts and do not allow omissions where there is a duty to disclose to prevent fraud. Those negotiations are different from negotiations between to business owners/sales people who do not have licenses that may be jeopardized by violating ethical standards.

Retired management expert Jill Goldhart, Ohio, offers these thoughts:

Two thoughts came to my mind. One of them is noted below and that is the individual thinks that by misleading the other party, they can gain the upper hand, or improve their chances of a better outcome. The second thought is that there is an innate lack of trust between the parties. They don’t believe that the other individual will be honest so they couch their responses to protect themselves.

D.C.-based association executive Brad Haransky offers this insight:

You may want to consider the “social media” effect when it comes to lying. A person that feels wronged can reach the world with so many social platforms available.

California-based mediator Ken Cloke offers these thoughts:

You can't tell a false lie. Even the lie you tell has a truth to it, which is your need to lie about it. What is the person trying to get by lying?

Lying sometimes rests on a false assumption that there is a single truth, so asking questions that have more than one correct answer bypasses the lying. Interest-based questions do this.

So, as can be seen from the above, deception is not a black and white issue. There are a lot of shades of gray including such terms as bluffing and puffing. Further, one needs to distinguish between perspectives and facts.

An effective negotiator distinguishes between being honest, which is part of their reputation and being open about information which can be strategic.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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