How to spot a liar during contract negotiations

I was having a drink with a client the other day. We had just finished a contract negotiation with a major software supplier and my client, instead of being happy with what as a great result and a significant negotiated saving, was fuming that I had shown the vendor salesman to be a liar. While I won’t go into the details of what that salesman had erroneously said and done, I thought it worth blogging on the general subject of spotting a liar.

Lying to gain competitive advantage during a contract negotiation is not only unethical but it can seriously damage the relationships between both parties. 

Yet research suggests that in an average 10 minte business conversation, most people will lie 2.9 times. These lies can be as simple as exageration about status, position or authority, or promises that cannot be kept white lies such as ‘Ive got another meeting in 10 minutes” to facilitate a quick escape.

Understanding the structure of language can help us interpret what the speaker is saying. For example, “I think that’s great, but…” usually means “it isn’t great at all”. Another language trick is to use generalisation; this has the effect of deleting useful facts such as when, where, who, what and why. Liars tend to make frequent use of ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘nobody’, and ‘everyone’ which distances themselves from the lie.

Here are five tell-tale verbal signs to look out for:

  1. Circumlocution. Long-winded explanations with lots of digressions punctuated with ‘ums’ and ‘errs’.
  2. Outlining. Explanations painted with broad brushstrokes. The brian finds it difficult to remember fictitious details.
  3. Smokescreens. Answers/responses that are designed to confuse.
  4. Negatives. If someone says ” I did not do ….” then beware.
  5. Word choice. Liars make fewer references to themselves. ’I', me’, ‘mine’ are used less frequently.

And ofcourse, as well as watching what your supplier salespeople say you should also watch their body language which can give away a lot of non-verbal information. But that’s another story in itself….

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