Extrasensory Deception: Part I
by Rick Brenner
Negotiation skills are increasingly essential in problem-solving workplaces. When incentives are strong, or pressure is high, deception is tempting. Here are some of the deceptions popular among negotiators.
Washington Irving, American author, 1783-1859. In 1824, Irving published a collection called Tales of a Traveller, which included the short story, The Devil and Tom Walker. In the story, Tom Walker, a miserable and miserly fellow, makes a deal with the devil in which he agrees to receive Captain Kidd's buried treasure in exchange for taking up a career as a usurer, doing the devil's work. The negotiations aren't described in detail in the story, but the pattern of the story is similar to many other stories, films, plays and folk tales about deals with the devil, in one important respect: the devil deceives his negotiation partner with respect to significant details of the deal. (This concept is perhaps best summarized in the maxim, "The devil is in the details.") An amusing twist on this pattern can be found in an episode of The Twilight Zone, "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville," by Rod Serling. Image of Washington Irving in 1820, from a painting by Gilbert Stewart Newton, courtesy City of Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Unlike flat-footed lies, which mislead by misinforming, deceptions mislead by causing the target to mis-think. Artful deceptions insert data into — or trigger reactions within — the minds of their targets, to cause them to make incorrect inferences or conclusions favorable to the deceivers.
To evaluate the ethics of deception, we must understand the situational context. For example, the nurse about to draw blood from a four-year-old boy might say, "This will pinch a little, but you're a big boy, right?" It's a deception, but few would call it unethical.
Ethical or not, most would agree that negotiations are fairest to all, and best for the represented organizations, when the process is free of deception. Recognizing deceptive techniques is often all that's needed to defeat them. Once we're aware of a particular deception, it loses much of its power.
Here's Part I of a little catalog of deceptive negotiation techniques, emphasizing persuasion. Part II focuses on deceptive techniques for drafting agreements. In what follows, Donald is the Deceptive partner, and the Other partner is Olivia.
- Painting over rust
- Olivia voices concern about part of the proposed agreement, noting that it's unfair in certain specific circumstances. In response, Donald explains the (supposed) intent of the language, and notes that it is benign in other circumstances. He suggests that Olivia is being unreasonable or insulting for even considering the issue she identified.
- This is an attempt to make Olivia doubt her own reasonableness and generosity of spirit, or to make her believe that she is excessively fearful or suspicious. Donald is using shame to cause Olivia to abandon caution.
- Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain
- Most would agree that
negotiations are fairest
to all when the process
is free of deception
- In response to Olivia's expressed concern, Donald offhandedly says, "Oh, that's just our standard language."
- Here Donald seeks to mollify Olivia not by addressing her concern, but by asserting, "we always do this." He wants to create a sense that "authorities" have approved the language, that it's legitimate and benign, and that it cannot be changed.
- You're the first to object
- Olivia expresses a concern, to which Donald replies, "Everyone else we've worked with has always agreed to this language."
- Instead of addressing the objection, Donald seeks to coerce Olivia by exploiting her desire to affiliate with a respected group, and her desire not to be viewed as difficult.
- As the pair invests more time in the negotiation, Donald can use threats to limit Olivia's objections. When she objects to conditions Donald recently added to the agreement, he might fault her for raising the issue "at this late date," asking whether she wants to be known as someone who "negotiates in this manner."
- Intimidation is especially effective, because Donald need not deal with issues he can prevent Olivia from raising. In this example, Donald threatens Olivia's reputation, but threats of any kind can work.
Next time, unless you object, we'll explore deceptive techniques related to the document drafting process. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Ethics at Work
- Budget Shenanigans: Swaps
- When projects run over budget, managers face a temptation to use creative accounting to address the problem. The budget swap is one technique for making ends meet. It distorts organizational data, and it's just plain unethical.
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: Part III
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or even more sensitive than that. Sometimes people who want to know what we know try to suspend our ability to think critically. Here are some of their techniques.
- Difficult Decisions
- Some decisions are difficult because they trigger us emotionally. They involve conflicts of interest, yielding to undesirable realities, or possibly pain and suffering for the deciders or for others. How can we make these emotionally difficult decisions with greater clarity and better outcomes?
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: Part II
- Personnel-sensitive risks are risks that are difficult to discuss openly. Open discussion could infringe on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
- Telephonic Deceptions: Part II
- Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
See also Ethics at Work and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: