I Love You, the Check is in the Mail, and I’m Telling You the Truth: Negotiating with Liars

I’m reminded this morning of the MITSloan Management Review’s article, Mastering the Art of Negotiating with Liars because today’s NYT “What’s Offline” column tantalizingly titled “Analyzing Failure Beforehand” mentions it and because it’s frustratingly unavailable unless you shell out $6.50 for the privilege.

Were I standing at a newsstand, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment shelling out the $20+ bucks for the entire issue (particularly to get a look at the article on team-building).  But the hassle of buying the article online is just too much.

That said, I am linking you to the article’s home here so that anyone with the patience to put $6.50 on their credit card for the privilege of reading the thing can do so.  The summary suggests that the author’s advice to avoid being deceived in negotiations includes suggestions to:

  • establish[] negotiating ground rules before the discussions begin,
  • ask[] the same question in different ways,
  • ask[] questions to which you already know the answer,
  • includ[e] written claims in the final agreement, and,
  • us[e] contingent agreements or . . . an escrow agent or a performance bond.

Let me say that the last suggestion (contingent agreements, escrow agents or performance bonds) is one of the best ways to protect yourself in your dealings with unproven and potentially untrustworthy bargaining partners.

Should Lie Detection Consume Your Negotiation Session?

The other suggestions from MITSloan — calculated to help you determine whether or not you’re being deceived — are less helpful.  Other than suggesting that written claims might protect you from deceit (you haven’t litigated enough breach of contract cases) the lie-detection suggestions are what any good negotiator should have learned a long time before the negotiation actually takes place.

Because I spent my legal career, and am now spending my mediation career, negotiating the resolution of hotly contested litigation (is there any other kind?), the only people I have facilitated negotiations for or have negotiated with, already firmly believe their negotiating partners are . . . . . SATAN . . .. and that lying is the least of their character disorders.

In my business, trust building is more important than lie-detection.  So long as you have done your homework and provide protections in the negotiated agreement for any contingencies that could possibly depend upon the truth of your adversary’s statements, making too great an effort to confirm your existing belief that your bargaining partner is a lying liar (as Al Franken might say) will be counter-productive to the exchange of information necessary for a value-creating interest-based bargaining session.



Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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