This kind of lie can boost profits in a negotiation

Jessica Morris
Follow Jessica
Palterers should beware - it still carries significant costs (Source: Getty)

Most of us shy away from telling outright lies in the workplace, however we might feel less conflicted about using actual facts to mislead an opponent.

And a study suggests that telling these little white lies could result in huge potential returns.

It all depends how you go about it. Researchers at Harvard’s Kennedy School say "paltering" is the best tactic to deploy, as it is both distinct from and more effective than other kinds of fibbing.

This is where people use actual facts to passively mislead someone - for example, focusing on the fact that something is not currently happening although it may have happened earlier. A transcript from NewsHour in 1998 was cited by the study as Bill Clinton gives a masterclass in paltering, in which he denied a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky on precisely this basis.

Researchers divided a group of 300 people into buyers and sellers and gave them a series of negotiation tasks. Buyers were instructed to either palter or tell the the truth. Those who paltered earned an average of $1.6m more in one simulation, and $2.4m in a more high stakes version.

Other patterns of lying tend to be either "lies of omission" - where the person will omit some of the key facts to actively mislead a counterpart - or lies of "commission" involving the use of incorrect statements.

Paltering is distinct from lies of commission in that it involves only truthful statements. It is distinct from lies of omission in that it involves actively misleading targets rather than passively omitting to share relevant information

"Self-image concerns, guilt, and anxiety limit both the frequency and the credulity of lies of commission and lies of omission. Thus, they inhibit deception," according to the study.

"Negotiators who palter, however, may preserve an honest self-image and thus lack this internal constraint on deception. This self-image also helps them project an honest impression."

Palterers should still beware - it carries significant costs - such as increasing the likelihood of an impasse and risks reputational harm - as Clinton later found out.

Related articles