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Updated: 14 Dec 2020

Deceptive Negotiation Gambits and Counter Measures



Uncover deceit and gambits from your counterpart in the negotiation process. Read body language and other tell tale signs to counter deception.

Not everybody plays the game by the golden rules, and even though we know this self-evident but bold reality as the plain simple truth, it is human nature to be more trusting than not. The hard truth is often that we may not see the light of the other’s deceit or manipulative gambits until we have lost value. You know the signs after the event: the hairs on the back of your neck prickle, or a tightening in your gut. Your body has flashed a warning sign that something is not right, and you suddenly find your defensive guard going on high alert.

Yet, there are some people who have a moral imperative that is not in the same strata of righteousness as our own. These other individuals might take pride or pleasure in putting one over us. Alternatively, in the corporate world we cannot necessarily know all the horrific pressures or poised daggers that might be pressed against the back of our opposite number. There are many sordid and lamentable reasons for the use of unethical gambits or tactics that might be used against us at the table.

A negotiator needs to be cautiously vigilant at all times, and be able to recognize these unscrupulous tactics. We train negotiators on how to identify manipulative tactics, neutralize these tactics to prevent losing value, and often to counter tactics.

4 Types of deceit you may encounter

There are different levels of deceit we might encounter, ranging from simple misrepresentation to out and out bald face negotiation lies. They are all equally harmful and potentially damaging, so let’s examine them in detail so we may better flush out these red herrings before they stink up the room.

1. Falsification

Your counterpart uses information that has been deliberately altered prior to the negotiation. This could be anything from misleading facts and figures, occasionally referred to as creative accounting in more dubious circles. Or, they could be false statements that has been either deliberately exaggerated or deliberately under estimated to mislead. The result is that this can cause us to erroneously recalculate and alter our own presentation. This tangled web is a tricky one to unravel, as it is difficult to pinpoint.

2. Misleading their position

Here, our counterpart deliberately falsifies their actual position to alter the range of the negotiation zone. One example is when our counterpart sits blandly across the table and boldly demands more or they will walk away in a huff. Actually, they really are ready to settle, but are just trying to squeeze a little bit more juice out of you for a little more coin, or to add a little more pulp in the form of another concession. On the other hand, they may also sincerely lie to you about their reservation or resistance point, and this blithely changes the zone of possible agreement. This scenario, unfortunately, is one of the more common situations we might face.

3. Misrepresentation

This scenario occurs when a negotiator deliberately fails to disclose the true wishes or position of the decision maker they represent, or they don’t tell their constituencies or bosses what actually has been transpiring in the negotiation room. Playing at a bit of the ‘old slight of hand‘ the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is playing at (Sort of speak). They are will fully playing either the bosses or us at cross-purposes to manipulate the outcome of the negotiation.

4. Bluffing

This is also a very commonly employed tactic meant to deceive us with their actual intentions. The gist, of course, is that they threaten to do something that they actually have no intention of doing. It usually occurs in the dubious form of either a false threat or a false promise. In a sense, this gambit shares many similarities to a good old-fashioned poker bluff, while in reality, their hand may only hold a pitiful pair of deuces.


It can be difficult to catch a person in a web of deceit. Even the most experienced negotiators can get snookered from time to time. However, there are a few counter measures we can employ to catch them out. It’s a method consisting of watch, listen and learn.

1. Watch

A favourite belief we all have likely heard is that a person cannot look you in the eye and lie to you at the same time. This is sometimes true, but someone who is practiced at deception learns to do exactly that very thing. Oft times though, a less skilful liar will look just slightly lower than directly in your eyes.

At any given moment when a person is about to engage in deceit, many people exhibit very subtle unconscious signs that can be indicative of their rascally intentions. Micro expressions may wash across their face like a momentary ripple of muscles, a rapid blinking or two of the eyes, or a dilation of the pupils, are all potential clues that might expose a potential deceiver.

They may fidget momentarily before or during their deceit, such as slightly shifting their positions, tugging on their ear, rubbing their chin, reveal an unconscious twitch, or fiddle with their fingers. These body movements are what an experienced poker player would refer to as a ‘tell‘. People can be very habitual in their ‘tells‘, but you have to be observant and register them. Once you hook onto their ‘tells‘, you can learn to read your counterpart like a book.

2. Listen

Voice patterns can also offer some clues about their nefarious intent. When people are engaging in deceit, the pitch of their voice tends to be slightly higher, or they might speak more slowly, and have to tendency to correct or alter their sentences. If a person hasn’t taken the time to practice their deceit, such as trying it out on the spot, they may become less fluent, exhibiting a decrease in their usual eloquence and stumble slightly over their words.

3. Learn

This really is a two-fold process. First, learning means we must be well prepared beforehand. The more information you have on the other negotiator’s situation such as facts, figures, financial statements, research and intelligence, the more prepared you will be to challenge any falsified statements they try to wing past you. The second stage of learning means to learn to recognize the verbal and body language clues discussed previously.


Smoking out the deceiver is an inexact science at best, and you must guard against jumping to a conclusion, but if the hairs are tingling at the back of your neck, then follow your gut and proceed with caution. A bluff can be challenged or questioned as to its wisdom. Intelligent and insightful questions can trip them up just as well.

Often times, our own instincts can be very wise and accurate as a warning barometer. There are ways to test the waters. You can use the pregnant or prolonged pause, while you narrow your eyes and stare meaningfully at them, as this might invoke additional visual or verbal clues. You could respond with your own body language such as using a well-timed sigh, raising an eyebrow, shifting your body to express discomfort, or sharing a sidelong glance with a team member. The most important thing is to simply be vigilant and alert. Be prepared by doing your homework on your counterpart, and keep your eyes and ears attuned and focused to whatever unravels in front of you.


  1. J. Lewicki, A. Litterer, W.Minton, M. Sauders, ‘Negotiation’, 2nd Edition, Irwin, (1994).
  2. Leigh Thompson, ‘The Heart and Mind of the Negotiator-2nd Edition’, Prentice Hall Business Publishing, (2001).
  3. Max H. Bazerman, Margaret A. Neale, ‘Negotiating Rationally’, The Free Press – MacMillian, (1992).
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 StarsRate this Article
4.3 out of 5 from 3 responses
  • 4
    jane doe on

    why would you continue to negotiate a business deal with someone who is using deceptions or fasifications to negotiate? They will certainly prove to be an unreliable business partner. Of course, if it's a one-off deal like a sale, you may be able to do business. But in a longer-term relationship or partnership, these are deal-killers, are they not?

  • 3
    Anonymous on

    I’m a total geek and always on the lookout for such articles, this one excels.

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