Thursday, September 1, 2016

Negotiating with a liar

Leslie K. John has an essay in the July-August 2016 Harvard Business Review entitled "How to negotiate with a liar"

Among other things, he notes that most of us can only identify a lie about one time in two; and, further: studies show most people tell some sort of a lie about once or twice a day.

 Good grief. With those statistics, it's a wonder we ever know if we're getting the straight stuff.

So, now what if you're in the midst of a negotiation with a colleague, contractor, supervisor, sponsor, or whomever? Do you assume a truthful discussion?

Frankly, it depends on what is at stake. It shouldn't be that way, but it is, so we've invented various non-real time tools when the stakes are high:
  • Sworn affidavits
  • Authentication systems, notaries and the such for documents
  • Corroborating sources
  • Testimony under oath
  • Contracts with damages for untruthful assertions
But, if you're sitting down in a negotiation in real-time, other techniques are needed. According to essayist John we all have these weaknesses, more or less, which are a threat to our position in a real-time negotiation:

Humans are particularly inept at recognizing lies that are cloaked in flattery: your boss’s promise that a promotion is coming any day now; the supplier’s assurance that your order is his top priority. We’re wired to readily accept information that conforms to our preexisting assumptions or hopes.

Leslie John has some ideas to counter that weakness and to help out with discovery. Here is some of what he recommends:

1. Encourage Reciprocity
Humans have a strong inclination to reciprocate disclosure: When someone shares sensitive information with us, our instinct is to match their transparency. In fact, simply telling people that others—even strangers—have divulged secrets encourages reciprocation.

2. Ask the Right Questions
... many negotiators guard sensitive information that could undermine their competitive position. In other words, they lie by omission, failing to volunteer pertinent facts.

3. Watch for Dodging
Savvy counterparts often get around direct questions by answering not what they were asked but what they wish they’d been asked. And, unfortunately, we are not naturally gifted at detecting this sort of evasiveness.

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