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How to Deal with a Liar During Negotiations

By |March 04, 2019

Our company used to say, “Yes is nothing without how.” But after years of negotiations, we’ve realized that this isn’t completely accurate. In reality, yes means nothing. How is everything.

Why is how so important? Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of ways people lie during negotiations. This short video from Jimmy Kimmel Live illustrates that although there are commonalities to lying, each person lies slightly differently. 

You can absolutely exhaust yourself trying to keep up with the 100 different ways someone could be lying, or you can focus on the how and actually move your negotiations forward.

How to Find the Hidden Gold Mines in Body Language

The Black Swan Group has a term that we refer to as the 7:38:55 ratio. The hypothesis here is that a message carries a relative weight of 7 percent content, 38 percent delivery, and 55 percent body language. If you want to spot a liar, the first how is found in their body language—this is what’s doing most of their communication.

How do you find the hidden gold mine for reading someone’s body language? Instead of focusing on your primary counterpart during a negotiation, observe one of their “wingmen.” This person is where you’ll find the most honest, unguarded body language. Everyone on the other side feels it when your gaze is fixed on their primary negotiator. Instead, have your wingmen discreetly watch their wingmen, and you’ll be stunned at what they pick up.  

In fact, there’s a great story about a business merger in the Netherlands that proves this point. During the late stages of the merger, junior employees were brought in to simply watch the negotiations and play no active role. Then, some of the junior employees noticed that whenever a particular clause was brought up, someone on the other side would cough discreetly (clearly, it wasn’t their primary negotiator). Away from the table, the junior employees brought this up in their team huddles. They ended up going back and reexamining the clause, found it was an overlooked issue, and reopened it. All because of the body language of the wingman.

How to Respond When Their Answer Sounds Hesitant

There are three kinds of yes that you will hear during negotiations: commitment, confirmation, and (most commonly) counterfeit. If you hate hearing the word maybe, it’s because you’ve been dealing with liars who have commonly given you a counterfeit yes.

How should you respond when a yes, or any other answer, sounds hesitant? Label it. Respond by using one of these statements:

  • “You sound a little hesitant ...”
  • “That yes sounds a little hesitant ...”
  • “It sounds like there is something else on your mind ...”

If you want to make sure your label always hits its mark, speak with a gentle or deferential tone. Tone of voice is like the rifling in a gun—the grooves in the barrel of a gun that spin the bullet so it will fly accurately and hit its mark. Without proper rifling, the bullet starts to tumble as soon as it leaves the barrel of the gun and will become inaccurate.

How to Properly Identify the Problem

The problem with liars is that they know they’ve expressed concern. They are actually hoping you pick up on it and address their concern in a way that doesn’t embarrass them or slap them in the face.

How do you identify this problem the correct way? Instead of cornering someone, bring the problem to light in a nonthreatening way. This encourages your counterpart to cooperate with you when problems arise—while cornering someone just makes them shut down and block you out.

Focusing on the how is the best way to deal with liars during negotiations. If you found this blog helpful and had success using these techniques, I would love to hear about it. Take a moment to connect with me on LinkedIn and drop me a line.

negotiating contracts