Ever been in a business negotiation when you suspected the other party was not telling the truth? And if your gut was right, would it change your negotiation tactics?
This month, I’ll share some tips on how you can look for clues to indicate whether the party at your negotiation table is being honest or dishonest. We will primarily focus on nonverbal clues.
Thirty years ago, a couple of other individuals and I published an article on deception. What we did was ask volunteer subjects to be videotaped under two different conditions: one in which they were asked to lie, and one in which they were asked to tell the truth.
Then, using criteria that we developed from analyzing the videotapes, we had a panel of judges review the original tapes and determine if the subject was deceitful or not. The judges were accurate by an overwhelmingly statistically significant margin.
Some of these conclusions will probably support your own armchair views. Most of them are common sense observations, to be sure. I’ll present them moving from the tip of the head down to the bottom of the feet.
Evasive eye contact is the No. 1 one giveaway, especially looking down in response to a question that only requires a yes or no answer. Looking up and away can also signify mulling over a deceitful response, but if it’s done in connection with a recall question, it may mean nothing more than that – trying to recall a time, date, event, etc.
Smiling or chuckling at an inappropriate moment, wetting the lips, rubbing an ear, perspiring in an air-conditioned room and visible skin blushness can be indicative of a dishonest response already made or about to occur.
The arms, hands and torso
Crossed arms are a clear signal that the person has no intention of being open and candid. Also, clenched fists can reflect the same inclination, in addition to the usual anger response. Leaning back in a chair, away from the other party, is a nonverbal sign of withdrawal and removal from the situation. Leaning forward connotes just the opposite.
If the legs are crossed toward you, it is a sign of inclusion. If they are crossed away from you, it is a sign of exclusion. A person acting deceitfully will tend to cross their legs away from the other party.
Foot tapping and moving the feet continuously in a circular motion denotes nervousness and anxiety, both symptoms of dishonest communications, as well as symptoms of boredom and restlessness.
It’s important to note that a combination of several telltale signs will best serve as clues when someone is in a deceptive mode. A clue in isolation may be nothing more than a habitual response that has nothing to do with honesty or dishonesty.
If you suspect in a negotiation that the other party is not telling the truth or is deliberately trying to manipulate you, what can you do? Here are some suggestions:
1. Mirror the other party’s deceptive behavior. It will confuse them. For example, they look down and away, you look down and away. They cross their legs away from you, you do the same. Now watch their response. Because you have them off guard, you can now counter with the points you want to be heard in the negotiation.
2. Enter a mode of silence (remember, silence is golden). Stare them down. Don’t say a word. Let them keep talking. They will dig themselves right into
the proverbial you-know-what hole.
3. Call for a recess. Get up and leave the room. Let an intermediary know that you don’t believe the other party is being honest, and that you will not continue the negotiations until you can be assured of non-deceitful interchange.
4. When all else fails, openly confront. Make sure you use "I" phrases, i.e., "I
think," "I feel, " "I believe," etc. And then offer up an alternative course of action. This is important in order to avoid a communication climate that becomes hostile and defensive.
One important caveat: these tips apply to negotiation scenarios that are not cross-cultural. Nonverbal clues differ significantly from one culture to the next.
The final message I would like to share has to do with what I’ll call the "they can also matter" portals of the negotiation environment. They can be opened to your advantage or disadvantage. Here are some tips:
1. Go to a neutral space, if you can’t do it in your own space.
2. A round table is better than any other kind of table.
3. If it’s too hot or too cold in the room, fix it.
4. No cell phones on.
5. Dress as the other party dresses.
6. Let someone else take notes or minutes so you can keep direct eye contact at all times.
7. On breaks, stick precisely to the allotted time.
8. Don’t slump in your chair (that looks defeatist).
10. Listen with passion.
Negotiations are an inescapable part of business and an inescapable part of life. Many seminar leaders refer to it as the art of negotiating. I disagree. It’s a cool skill. Until next month, let your new nonverbal skills go to work for you.
Harry W. Dennis III is the president of The Executive Committee (TEC) in Wisconsin and Michigan. TEC is a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at (262) 821-3340 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 26, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI