Effective Communication

Negotiating With Liars

negotiation liar

I recently made an offer on a house, and learned something I didn’t really want to learn about negotiating.

When I told my broker I wanted to offer the asking price, she said the seller already had an offer at that amount, and I would have to offer more.

I did, and the seller accepted. A week or so later, as things were moving along, I found out my broker had lied about the other offer.

I felt naive. But a few days later I read of a new study showing that both women and men more often lie to women during negotiations. It didn’t make me feel better about what the broker did (yes, I fired her) but it is another reminder of what women face when they negotiate. And how they can better prepare before any negotiation.

In a study with MBA students, researchers asked men and women to take the part of buying and selling agents in a real estate deal. There was a catch: the seller’s agent was told to sell to someone who wanted to keep the property for residential purposes. They buyer’s agent was told that the client planned to use the property as a hotel, but not to tell anyone. The students, therefore, had to decide whether to tell the truth about the situation or to lie.

After the experiment, 24 percent of men said they lied to a female partner, while only 3 percent of men said they lied to a male partner. Women also lied: 17 percent said they lied to a woman, and 11 percent to a man. Both sexes were more likely to give men preferential treatment, as well.

The reason is tied to the perception that women are less competent. Laura Kray, a professor at the University of California and one of the study’s authors, told Slate: “When people perceive someone as low in competence and easily misled, they assume the person will not scrutinize lies, and that you can get away with [lying].”

In other words, because they are more likely to get away with a lie, they try it. That’s hardly good news about human nature. But for women, it is a reminder of the importance of appearing competent and confident during negotiations. Being prepared and asking questions during the process can help ascertain the truth of what you are hearing.

When something doesn’t feel right, or you are not getting what you want, be willing to walk away. That kind of confidence can change those perceptions—and get you what you want—whether it’s a higher salary or a house.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.