Determining whether or not someone is attempting to deceive you is difficult. Most don’t exercise much due diligence and therefore make themselves easy targets. Many people dismiss lying as an everyday occurrence that everyone participates in. I disagree, at least I disagree that everyone intentionally lies on a daily basis. I’ll share some tips with you today that will help you in this effort.
Some Basic Questions
Before we get to that though, you have to answer some basic questions about yourself:
- Do I lie?
- Am I comfortable with lying to others?
- Do I believe that there are “levels” of lying (some are worse than others, white lies, major lies)?
- Is intentionally withholding key information acceptable or different than lying?
These questions are meant to challenge your approach to the negotiations process and are the kind of prep work that we discussed in the previous episode that will pay handsome dividends. My experience in negotiations, especially when the stakes are high, indicates a common need for assessing not just whether you’re comfortable with, but your intentions regarding, mistruths or outright lies.
Ayn Rand had this to say about lying in her book Atlas Shrugged:
“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.” ― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
If the other party asks me about the new feature in our software app that isn’t ready to go yet, will I respond truthfully? Will I intentionally lie or mislead in response to their question or will I redirect/refocus on a different topic? Will I indicate that I’m not able to discuss it (and is that true)?
If the other party asks me if this is my “best” price, how am I going to answer? Or what if they ask, “Is this your final offer?” How do you respond if you know you can do better? If they ask me if there’s hidden margin in my price, what will I say? If I’m told that we have just improved our transportation rate by $1,000, and my customer asks me if freight has changed for the new contract period, how will I answer?
These aren’t theoretical scenarios. They happen every day and many are questions that I’ve had to personally answer or address. Negotiations are difficult, even more so when someone across the table is not being honest and you are being transparent.
Choosing to be honest and holding a conviction that lying is wrong, is often uncomfortable for managers who have placed you in a position where negotiating is part of your role, especially when they don’t hold the same level of conviction or simply aren’t used to doing business this way. When it’s not understood, it can be thought to create a losing situation during negotiations.
Here’s something that you won’t believe: you can be completely honest and maintain a strong negotiating position that brings advantage, not disadvantage, to your negotiations. But I will also tell you this. Listen close: you can’t choose to be honest with every word you say and NOT prepare for the questions that others are going to ask. So go back to Episode 84: A Massive Advantage As You Prepare For Your Next Negotiation and think through your preparation process. Then think about the other party’s preparation process. Are they coming with the intent to deceive or manipulate?
Maybe you aren’t sure. That’s a problem and might indicate a lack of preparation. Part of negotiating is understanding the various tactics that the other party could or will use during the negotiations. So how do you deal with deception? Start with some facts:
According to Michael Hudson from ENS International, research suggests that 80% of men and women agree there are ‘acceptable’ lies, like lying to spare someone’s feelings. Research also suggests that men lie twice as often as women with the average male telling at least two to three big lies a day. Additionally, negotiators believe that they are being deceived ~40% of the time. Lies are rarely accidental and meant to secure an advantage.
So…it’s pretty likely that you are dealing with deceit, misinformation, or even intentional manipulation through lies when you are sitting down to negotiate. And don’t forget this: disinformation (false information that is intended to mislead) is fraudulent.
Here’s the tough part: even though we can be reasonably certain that the other party is lying to us about specific aspects of the negotiation, studies show we are absolute crap at determining when. Apparently, we are wrong 50% of the time. What’s the takeaway? I guess it’s that people are pretty good liars…or we aren’t very observant. It’s not hopeless though: you can work on observation skills that will help you to detect deception.
Michael says that deception is difficult to conceal because lying takes more mental effort than telling the truth. This causes anxiety and stress leading to cues that give people away when they lie.
So here are his four tips to help you detect deception:
1. Check Facts
I think of this as “Buyer Beware” – it might not seem fair, but YOU have to be the expert. Can you separate facts from fiction? Have you validated your assumptions?
2. Ask Questions
DO NOT ask ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions. You want open-ended discussion which means ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘why’.
3. Establish Behavioral Baseline
This should immediately queue the image of normally loud children who have suddenly gone silent! Or how about when you walk past your child and they give you that awkward hand wave saying “Hi” – “What’s up?” you ask. “Uh, nothing.” Yeah, right.
As you can imagine, the challenge here is that some of your negotiations of major significance are “one-offs”. You probably don’t see your car dealer, real estate agent, or appliance salesperson multiple times per year.
But this point is very important. Changes from usual ways of behaving may indicate deception. But to notice the change, you have to have the norm. When you have this understanding of a person, you can check for mixed signals or contradictions between their spoken word and their speech patterns and body language and note variations in frequency. And that leads us to the one you probably expected from the beginning:
4. Listen And Observe Closely
These are the behavioral changes Michael says you might be able to identify that could mean someone is lying to you:
- facial expression – while remaining ‘poker-faced’ watch for subtle movements, changes in microexpressions
- eye contact – may be reduced, but mostly liars train themselves not to break eye contact (also note cultural variance of dropping gaze as a mark of respect)
- blink rate – less than people telling the truth
- body posture – more controlled, tight
- body orientation – less close, moves/turns away
- arms/hands – less expansive gestures, reduced movement in arms/hands/fingers, possible increase in fidgeting and hand-to-face contacts (eg. mouth cover, nose touch)
- body movements – while a decrease in overall body movements note a possible increase in small body shifts, squirms
- nonverbal speech – note changes in pitch/pace and more pauses
- voice – may become tenser or more high or low-pitched
- speech errors – make fewer speech errors than truth tellers, less ‘ahs’ and ‘ums’
- gaps in the ‘story’ – liars rarely backtrack to fill in forgotten or incorrect details.
However, always remember any of the above could be natural behaviors, not signs of lying. Focus on the whole range of behaviors and don’t rely on any single item.
So it boils down to this: if you are going to operate in community, if you are going to do life with others, it’s likely you will be hurt by someone else’s lies. This is no reason to abandon honesty, transparency, and character. The world needs people like you. People dedicated to absolutes that are not abandoned in the sometimes overwhelming face of relativism.
Your commitment to the truth and refusing to lie when others around you don’t have the same standards will likely cost you in one form or another. As someone who researches her position prior to initiating any negotiation, you won’t be blindsided. You’ll see it coming from a mile away. Don’t be afraid to call the bluff. After all, there’s a 50/50 chance your right!
I’ll leave you with this from Jose Harris:
“There is beauty in truth, even if it’s painful. Those who lie, twist life so that it looks tasty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant, and powerful to the weak. But lies only strengthen our defects. They don’t teach anything, help anything, fix anything or cure anything. Nor do they develop one’s character, one’s mind, one’s heart or one’s soul.” ― José N. Harris
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
Michael Hudson’s Dealing With Deception At The Negotiating Table
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