Unlike flat-footed lies, which mislead by misinforming, deceptions mislead by causing the target to mis-think. Artful deceptions insert data into — or trigger reactions within — the minds of their targets, to cause them to make incorrect inferences or conclusions favorable to the deceivers.
To evaluate the ethics of deception, we must understand the situational context. For example, the nurse about to draw blood from a four-year-old boy might say, "This will pinch a little, but you're a big boy, right?" It's a deception, but few would call it unethical.
Ethical or not, most would agree that negotiations are fairest to all, and best for the represented organizations, when the process is free of deception. Recognizing deceptive techniques is often all that's needed to defeat them. Once we're aware of a particular deception, it loses much of its power.
Here's Part I of a little catalog of deceptive negotiation techniques, emphasizing persuasion. Part II focuses on deceptive techniques for drafting agreements. In what follows, Donald is the Deceptive partner, and the Other partner is Olivia.
- Painting over rust
- Olivia voices concern about part of the proposed agreement, noting that it's unfair in certain specific circumstances. In response, Donald explains the (supposed) intent of the language, and notes that it is benign in other circumstances. He suggests that Olivia is being unreasonable or insulting for even considering the issue she identified.
- This is an attempt to make Olivia doubt her own reasonableness and generosity of spirit, or to make her believe that she is excessively fearful or suspicious. Donald is using shame to cause Olivia to abandon caution.
- Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain
- In response to Olivia's expressed concern, Donald offhandedly says, "Oh, that's just our standard language."
- Here Donald seeks to mollify Olivia not by addressing her concern, but by asserting, "we always do this." He wants to create a sense that "authorities" have approved the language, that it's legitimate and benign, and that it cannot be changed.
- You're the first to object
- Olivia expresses a concern, to which Donald replies, "Everyone else we've worked with has always agreed to this language."
- Instead of addressing the objection, Donald seeks to coerce Olivia by exploiting her desire to affiliate with a respected group, and her desire not to be viewed as difficult.Most would agree that
negotiations are fairest
to all when the process
is free of deception
- As the pair invests more time in the negotiation, Donald can use threats to limit Olivia's objections. When she objects to conditions Donald recently added to the agreement, he might fault her for raising the issue "at this late date," asking whether she wants to be known as someone who "negotiates in this manner."
- Intimidation is especially effective, because Donald need not deal with issues he can prevent Olivia from raising. In this example, Donald threatens Olivia's reputation, but threats of any kind can work.
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.