Underhanded Negotiators

How to Handle Dishonesty Across the Table

From time to time, we all come across dishonest negotiators, and it is never a pleasant experience. I will discuss potential signs that your counter-part in the negotiation process is being deceptive and what to do.

There are many reasons why people are dishonest. And the range is vast –making up facts and figures on the spot due to lack of accurate information, to needing to win no matter what it takes.

Bullies employ the latter and will often overact. They can be quite dramatic in their insistence that what they are saying is true. They may raise their voice and get angry while accusing you of not being flexible. Or they may do the opposite and appear nonchalant and overly relaxed. But their faces and body-language will tell a different story.

Some dishonest negotiators will appear over-rehearsed and stiff. They may be easily thrown by questions and try to avoid them, as it is not part of their script. They also may smile at inappropriate times, and their words and their body language don’t match, even if the disconnect is very subtle.

Dishonest negotiators seem eager to end the meeting. They may keep looking at their watch and try to wrap things up, once they have made their demands or said no to your demands. They are afraid the longer the meeting goes on, the more likely that they will be caught in a lie.

Dishonest negotiators are uncomfortable with your questions and their answers may be inconsistent. They work hard to side step your questions or act like your negotiation process is unreasonable.

What can you do if you are sitting across the table from deceptive negotiators?

First, if possible, disengage when you have other options. It will be well worth the time and effort to walk away and avoid the headache of consistently evaluating what is true and what is not. Why make life harder for yourself than it needs to be?

But sometimes you may have no choice. You may have no viable alternative plan, you may work with this person or you may already be too tied-up with your counterpart to walk away. What to do in that situation?

If you need to continue to negotiate with dishonest people, resist the urge to be hostile and dishonest in return. If you do that, you will lose any chance of getting them to drop their dishonesty.

If you suspect or know your counterpart can be deceptive, start off the negotiation process by using the word cooperate. Research has shown that if you discuss HOW you will negotiate first and use the word cooperate, they will be less dishonest and hostile.

If they are acting deceptive and hostile in their negotiation tactic, ask them outright to revisit your agreement to cooperate. They will probably act insulted, but the direct request will soften them up and may get them to drop the pretense somewhat.

If they still don’t drop the dishonest assertions, then you will need to protect yourself. One way is to make contingent agreements. If what they say isn’t true, there will be a penalty. For example, if they say that their price is higher because their product will be delivered faster than their competitors’, insist on a financial penalty if they miss their deadlines. If their volumes don’t increase, the current pricing is no longer valid. Whenever possible try to reduce their representations to numbers, so you are relying on expectations that are both concrete and quantifiable.

With a dishonest counterpart, go over every line of the contract with a magnifying glass and make sure the numbers you agreed upon are what you are signing. It’s especially important to consider all possible issues that might arise – such as power outages, raw materials pricing surges, weather stoppages, downturn in the marketplace, etc. Be sure to have a contractual agreement on who will be responsible for what.

The key is not to put your head in the sand. Admit you are dealing with a hardball deceptive negotiator and act accordingly. If you can’t motivate them to be upfront in their negotiations, forget win-win. It only works when both negotiators agree to this strategy. A professional negotiator is only as valuable as their reputation, so never act deceptively, but notice the signs of a deceptive negotiator, stand your ground, protect yourself and insist on a fair agreement.

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