Reputation For Honesty = Protection Against Deception In Negotiations (A Study)

Honest Abe (photo by Marilyn Swanson)

By: Donald L Swanson

A negotiator’s reputation for honesty minimizes the danger of being deceived.

That’s the finding of a recent study. [Fn. 1, the “Study”]

Background 

Reputations endow negotiators with a set of expectations about their intentions and behaviors, influence interpretations of their behavior, and impact response to their behaviors.

The Study examines effects of two commendable negotiator reputations (i.e., friendliness and honesty) on deception in negotiation. 

General Findings

The Study’s general findings are:

  • a reputation for honesty serves better in negotiations than a reputation for friendliness, at enhancing trust and curtailing deception; 
  • emotions associated with lying (e.g., intensified guilt and reduced pride) reduce deception towards negotiators viewed as honest; and 
  • the advantage of an honest reputation disappears (and even backfires) when refuted.

Such findings show that negotiators concerned about being deceived should focus on having and maintaining a reputation for honesty.

Prior Research

Prior research shows that negotiators feel more license to deceive those who are dishonest, because dishonest negotiators are expected to have overly-selfish intentions—e.g., working toward a win/lose solution, instead of a win/win solution. 

Prior research also identifies factors that reduce deception in negotiations, such as:

  • negotiating face-to-face, rather than over email;
  • expecting a long-term versus short-term relationship;
  • asking direct rather than indirect or general questions; and
  • believing that deception is prevalent in negotiations.

Assumptions and A Distinction

The authors’ research explores the impact of two commendable negotiator reputations: friendliness and honesty.  

—Assumptions 

The Study assumes:

  • negotiators possess private information, which they can intentionally conceal or opportunistically misrepresent; and 
  • accurate information exchange is vital to reaching efficient negotiation outcomes.

—A Distinction: Friendliness v. Honesty

The study specifically compares the effects of reputations for friendliness and for honesty on deception in negotiations.  It differentiates between sociability and morality, which are often clumped together, and disentangles them.

Key Finding

The Study’s key finding is:

  • negotiators with reputations for honesty are presupposed to be high on integrity and are, therefore, deceived less.

Here’s why.  Opposing negotiators:

  • anticipate feeling negative and guilty (and less positive and proud) about lying to honest negotiators; and 
  • anticipate increased reciprocity when behaving honestly towards honest negotiators.

A Negative Corollary 

The Study also finds a negative corollary:

  • the benefits of a negotiator’s honest reputation go away—even backfire—when caught in a lie during negotiations.

The result is that negotiators with honest reputations, when caught in a negotiating lie, are then deceived more.

Compared to counterparts with friendly reputations who lie, those with refuted honest reputations are not only deceived more but also reach lower gains in negotiations.

Conclusion

An honest reputation, when maintained throughout negotiations, is a valuable asset for negotiators—because it minimizes the danger of being deceived in negotiations.

Here’s a huge “thank you” to the authors of this study for their work and insights!

—————————

Footnote 1.  The 2020 study is titled, “When negotiators with honest reputations are less (and more) likely to be deceived,” is authored by Ilanit Siman Tov-Nachlieli, Liron Hat-Verdi and Simone Moran, and is published by Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 157 (2020) 68-84.

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