Does It Ever Pay To Lie In A Negotiation?

By Bradley Chowles July 16, 2020 | 3 min read

In any negotiation, information is an incredibly valuable commodity. (After all, Managing Information Skillfully is one of our 6  Principles of Successful Negotiation.) But, is it ever okay to lie in a negotiation? If you were to ask which competitors your prospect is considering and what they’ve been offered, for instance, you might adjust your proposal accordingly. What if they lied?

Just as there’s information that you want to obtain from a customer, there’s also information that you want to protect; information that, if brought to light, may hurt your positioning. For example, let’s say a key member of your team recently resigned, who was responsible for some of the work included in your proposal. You know it will be a minor setback, if at all, but if the customer uncovers this detail they may try to use it to their advantage.

So what should you do if a customer asks you directly about some information that you’re trying to protect? You might think it’s easiest to simply lie. All’s fair in a negotiation, as long as it leads to a closed deal and boosted bottom line – right? Don’t the ends justify the means?

The answer is, quite simply, no.

Even if you’re asked about an embarrassing product defect, you shouldn’t straight-up lie and say it’s been resolved if it hasn’t.

Four vital reasons you shouldn’t mislead, deceive, or flat-out lie in a negotiation

1. You’ll end up getting caught

If you up against an experienced negotiator who’s seen their fair share of tactics and half-truths, then you’ll only end up playing yourself. These skilled negotiators use a technique known as “triangulation” to interrogate your answers from a variety of angles with a series of questions. If your answer is factual, you’ll be able to answer quickly and everything you say will line up. But if your answer is false or misleading, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to ensure all your responses align. And when you’re exposed, there’ll be little you can do to gain their trust – especially in the short-term window of that conversation.

2. Most of your deals are not “one-shot” deals

In the B2B world, initial sales negotiations are usually the start of a long-term business relationship. This increases the potential damage of dishonesty by magnitudes of scale, as there’ll be a lot more at stake than a simple once-off transaction. If your negotiation goes as planned and you develop an on-going relationship with the other party, then you’ll be in an incredibly tough situation if they learn that you misled or lied to them in your sales process.

3. Most companies have clearly defined ethics and values

When you sit down at the negotiation table, it can be tempting to let your ego get the best of you and feel that you’re lone wolf who’ll stop at nothing to get the results you need. But the truth of the matter is, you’re representing your organization. And in today’s world where business practice is under an ever-strengthening microscope, companies like yours have strict ethical codes. By lying or misleading a customer, you’re violating that ethical code at the expense of your company’s reputation. In many cases, such misconduct can lead to reprimand and even termination.

4. Negotiation doesn’t magically suspend your personal values

Our last reason not to lie in a negotiation is the simplest: if you have a personal moral code and believe that lying is wrong, that doesn’t stop being the case when you’re in the midst of a negotiation. By going rogue with the truth and lying in negotiations, you’ll only end up diminishing your own personal values.

RED BEAR continues to help buyers and sellers negotiate value-based, sustainable agreements within their own organizations and externally with suppliers and customers. If you’re interested in growing your team’s negotiating skills to ensure better outcomes, click here for more information.


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