Lying in Negotiations: 3 Reasons Why It Does Not Work

Every year, several students ask me if it’s OK for them to lie in a negotiation. Some believe lying will give them an edge, while others worry they won’t be able to stand their ground without it.

Either way, my answer is always the same: No, it’s not OK to lie in a negotiation. Lying is unethical, in many contexts illegal, and it’s not even an effective negotiation strategy.

I have several reasons to support my view, and thought I’d put them into this week’s newsletter.

1. Lying convincingly is harder than you think

Most of us go around our days thinking we are better than the average person. It’s statistically impossible, but it’s part of the human experience.

The thing is, other people are as smart as we are, and that makes them good at detecting lies. They listen to our tone, they observe our body language, and get a general sense of how trustworthy we are.

Your negotiation counterparts carefully analyze the information you give them and compares it to your past statements. If they doubt they can trust you, and they have alternatives, they won’t make a deal with you.

Even if someone believes your lie at first, nothing says the illusion will hold in the long-term. People might talk to others, triangulate information, and realize later on that things don’t add up.

In my experience, lies almost always get uncovered at one point or another.

2. Lying reduces the size of the ZOPA

Imagine the following scenario. You currently make 100 (units irrelevant) being employed for Company A. Company B is interested in hiring you, and you are considering changing jobs and joining them.

Company B asks you about your salary expectations. You tell them that you are currently making 130 (i.e. you lie), hoping to receive a high offer. They respond that you are currently paid above their maximum budget (e.g. 120), and that they will be pursing other options.

In this scenario, before the lie, the Zone of Possible Agreements (i.e. ZOPA) was positive. You could have reached a deal between 100 and 120. Both parties could have won additional value.

After the lie, the ZOPA became negative. There was no room for agreement because in the lie, company A already pays you more than what company B has budgeted.

When we lie, we change the parameters of the game and reduce the amount of possibilities to make a deal with our counterparts.

3. Lying damages relationships

Negotiating a job offer with a candidate, a contract with a client, an arrangement with a colleague — Negotiations are starting points of relationships that can last several years.

Most lies end up exposed, and at no point will the other party find it acceptable that you lied to them. Nobody wants to collaborate with someone they can’t trust.

Our professional networks are small enough that lying to one person can damage your relationships with other people as well. There are so many bridges one can burn.

When you zoom out and consider the entire relationship with your negotiation counterpart, then lying is clearly not worth it.

To conclude

What can we do instead of lying? We can learn how to be assertive, without being aggressive. This takes training and practice, but absolutely everyone can do it. 

Join this Friday’s Master Negotiators Lab to learn more about negotiation, and practice your negotiation skills.