Paltering. It'll bite you in the end.

In a new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the authors from Harvard University discussed the topic of paltering. They focused on situations where negotiating took place, and accurate information within those negotiations had consequences. First of all they found that paltering was common. More common than telling a lie. These negotiators believed paltering wasn’t as big a deal as lying. Hmmm, not true.


Definition from “To be deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead or withhold information.”


Writer, Alex Fradera, in his story in the Research Digest about the research said: “In one experiment, 130 participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website imagined trying to use eBay to sell a car with generally positive features but that sometimes mysteriously failed to start. When a prospective customer asked if there were any engine problems, the researchers told some participants to imagine that they parried the question by using a palter: emphasising the (true) fact that the car mostly ran very smoothly. Other participants were asked to play the role of the customer, and to imagine their feelings after discovering this deception post-purchase.”


What’s interesting is when the “palterers” were asked to rate their honesty in this negotiation, they rated themselves as 3.4, not too far below the midpoint on the 7-point rating scale. When the buyers were asked how they rated the transaction in terms of honesty, the average was only 2.5. A palterer will justify their behaviour with “I didn’t actually say anything untrue” which will maintain their self-image as basically decent, but the victim has experienced deception, regardless of the method.


Why do some people palter? In many cases, it may not be for the purposes of deception where you win, and someone else loses. It may be that seemingly innocent conversation where you feel you’re protecting the other person from hearing information (you think) they may not like to hear.


Can you think of a time when you paltered? Did you justify your behaviour by telling yourself that you were telling the truth, maybe just not the whole story. And over time, has it become a part of your habitual behaviour?


Or have you been on the receiving end? If you found out the whole story afterwards, did you feel deceived resulting in a small piece of trust being removed?


Regardless of your position within a company, paltering will break trust. If you’re in sales, and nowadays who isn’t regardless of your title, paltering will lose clients. Honesty and integrity will win every time and over time.


The hard-hitting negotiator who palters to win, may appear on the surface to be that mentally-tough person who will always go the extra mile. What if the opposite is true? What if they palter because they don’t have the communication skills and finesse to tell the truth, or the emotional intelligence to manage a tricky client relationship, or the self-esteem and confidence to respond to difficult questions? If they did, they’d know that paltering is short term and dangerous.