Why is it so hard to tell the truth during a negotiation?  I am teaching a group of Masters students this week, and like all other delegates on my courses before them, they have fallen in to the trap of being unable to tell the truth at a crucial juncture in the case simulation.

The scenario is set around a compensation claim, with issues on both sides on how the problem arises.  Initially they are told that the compensation claims from patients is £120,000, but in the confidential brief of one of the teams it is revealed the claims are reducing and currently stand at only £10,000 and are continuing to fall.  Out of 8 negotiating teams, only 1 group informed the other side about the drop.

That one group got a much better all round deal, and found the whole process easier and less fraught.

The other 7 groups ended up with deals that would not stand up (based on the wrong figure which would come out eventually), or felt that they didn’t trust the other side at all.

When I ask why they didn’t reveal the true figure, the responses were as follows: ‘they blamed me for the problem so I thought I won’t help you’, ‘They never asked’, ‘I didn’t want to’, ‘Why should I?  Now I get more of a discount”, “It wouldn’t have helped, they would have thought all my other positions were weak too.”

There is a fine balance between being honest and revealing your true position, but it is always better to reveal new information that can affect the course of the negotiation.  Far from being the weakness it is often perceived to be, it is a way of building trust into your relationship – something that makes coming to an agreement much easier than if you are arguing over (non-existent) points.  If you come to a deal based on an untrue figure, how can you go through with it?  Eventually the truth will come out and from then on the relationship you had will be tarnished.  By how much will depend on how much the deception has hurt the other side.   

Honesty is strength.  It shows you are confident enough in your positions to be open.  It shows the other side that they can trust you. And it gives you deals that will not be questioned later by either side.

Be brave, tell the truth.