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Hunting for Deception in Mediation – Winning Cases by Understanding Body Language by Jeffrey Krivis and Mariam Zadeh.

By Jeffrey Krivis and Mariam Zadeh

Deception … A Reality of Mediation

Although few will admit to it, there is no doubt that deception plays an active role in mediation between both sides and their communications with the mediator.  This is because every negotiator wants to leave the negotiating table believing that he or she obtained the best possible result for his or her client.  Most believe that to accomplish this goal, some form of deceit is required.  Some may give deceit in this context a more politically correct name, such as “aggressive bargaining” or “zealous advocating”. We, on the other hand, will refrain from sugar-coating what transpires in mediation every day, and will call it as it is: deception.  Yes, we said it. The “D” word.  We’ve all used it as negotiators and we’re here to highlight ways of detecting it when it’s used against you. 

If you find our position cynical, our research has revealed the following facts: 1) 61.5% of subjects’ natural conversation involved some form of deception1; 2) individuals reported that they averaged 16 white lies over a two-week period2; 3) the typical person lies approximately 13 times per week3; and 4) 28% of negotiators lied about a common interest issue during negotiations while 100% of negotiators either failed to reveal a problem or actively lied about same if they were not questioned directly on the issue.4

Deception in negotiation takes many forms which range the spectrum from bluffing, posturing, evading, concealing and misrepresenting, to outright lying. At every juncture, the deceiver must decide whether to create false information (lying or misrepresenting), deliver vague and ambiguous information that contains part truth and part deception (bluffing and posturing) or avoid providing relevant information (evading).5  For purposes of this discussion, we will rely on a definition that views deception as “a deliberate act that is intended to foster in another person a belief or understanding which the deceiver considers false … Specifically, the deceiver transmits a false message (while hiding the true information) and also attempts to convince the receiver of his or her sincerity.”6

1 Turner, R. E., Edgley, C. & Olmstead, G. (1975). Information control in conversations: Honesty is not always the best policy.Kansas Journal of Sociology, 11, 69 – 89.

2 Camden, C., M. T. Motley, & A. Wilson. (1984). White lies in interpersonal communication: A taxonomy and preliminary investigation of social motivations. Western Journal of Speech Communication, 48, 309 – 325.

3 Hample, D. (1980). Purposes and effects of lying. The Southern Speech Communication Journal, 46, 33 – 47.

4 Houch, S. & Kunreuther, H. (2001). Deception in Negotiation. Wharton on Making Decisions, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

5 Burgoon, J. K., & Buller, D. B. (1994). Interpersonal deception: III. Effects of deceit on perceived communication and nonverbal behavior dynamics. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 18, 155-184.

6 Zuckerman, M., DePaulo, B. M., & Rosenthal, R. (1981). Verbal and nonverbal communication of deception. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 14, p. 3). New York: Academic Press.  Buller & Burgoon maintain a less restrictive definition of deception characterizing the act “as the intent to deceive a target by controlling information (e.g., transmitting verbal and nonverbal messages and/or manipulating situational cues) to alter the target’s beliefs or understandings in a way that the deceiver knows is false.” Burgoon, Supra note 6, at 192.


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June 2006