Dealing With Lies in Negotiations

During a negotiation, one of your counterparts makes an untrue statement. How should you respond?

You are negotiating an important multiparty agreement when one of your counterparts makes a statement which you know is not true. During a break, you hear other negotiators expressing discomfort over how to respond to the negotiator who made the false claim. Should they confront them directly, give them an opportunity to explain themselves, or ignore them?

According to Larry Susskind, Director of the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center within the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, "the most effective response to a lie is to name it, frame it, and claim it." For the advanced negotiator, calling out a liar within a negotiation should follow that framework.

It allows an individual to 1. call out a falsehood, 2. provide a motive for that falsehood by its perpetrator, and 3. assert their confidence in doing so, increasing their credibility and commitment to honest negotiations among their counterparts. By following Susskind's framework, negotiators demonstrate their adherence to good-faith negotiations and their disdain for dishonesty.

But what about misperception of information during negotiations? You might perceive another negotiator to be lying, but your own understanding of information might be incomplete, or, incorrect. If you incorrectly claim that someone is lying about information, your own standing as a negotiator could be irreparably harmed, especially should someone else name, frame, and claim your statement as false. As such, verify your information and understanding of a situation before jumping to call out a liar during negotiations.

The bottom line: Dealing with perfidious negotiators creates uncomfortable situations for those hearing false statements. The best manner of recourse is to verify your own information first, and then, name, frame, and claim the spoken lie.

Director, Negotiation Task Force; Lecturer on Government, Harvard University

Arvid Bell is a scholar and entrepreneur who specializes in complex conflict analysis, negotiation strategy, and international security.