Negotiating with LIARS

By Susan Lassiter-Lyons | Real Estate

I’ve found in the business of real estate investing, and life in general, that people often lie. I am not saying this to be a Negative Nelly, but it’s true. The trick in overcoming lies in negotiation, especially when you are attempting to Negotiate to Yes, is to spot the liar first, figure out what they’re lying about, and then negotiate that liar to yes anyway.

This is part 4 of a 4 part series on Negotiate to Yes!

Part 1: How to Negotiate to Yes
Part 2: Negotiating for Buyers
Part 3: Negotiating for Sellers
Part 4: Negotiating with Liars (you are here)

This is it folks, the conclusion to Negotiating to Yes – Key aspects to my Getting the Deals program.

Seriously, if you can’t negotiate a deal to yes, with everyone under the sun, why bother knowing about my over 65 ways to generate real estate investment leads?

For example,

Say I am rocking the Zombie Leads and I show up to a negotiation with a seller’s agent who won’t take my offer seriously – what do I do if I can’t turn that around?

Lose the deal?

Not an option.

Learning to negotiate to yes is paramount to succeeding in this industry, and sadly, many real estate investors (particularly those not trained in principled negotiating strategies) often resort to lying when they get desperate.

So let’s learn to incorporate these folks in our deal making possibilities.

First up…

How to Spot a Liar


In her book, “Liespotting”, author Pamela Meyer discovered two truths about lying:

  • Truth #1 Lying is a cooperative act – it needs the hearer to believe.
  • Truth #2 We are against lying… and covertly for it.

Meyer gave an amazing TED Talk on this that has been very handy in my business and I encourage you to watch it.

Essentially, Meyers makes a case that everyone lies.

“Two-year-olds bluff. Five-year-olds lie outright. They manipulate via flattery. Nine-year-olds, masters of the cover-up. By the time you enter college, you're going to lie to your mom in one out of every five interactions. By the time we enter this work world and we're breadwinners, we enter a world that is just cluttered with Spam, fake digital friends, partisan media, ingenious identity thieves, world-class Ponzi schemers, a deception epidemic — in short, what one author calls a post-truth society. It's been very confusing for a long time now,” she said.

Now, Meyers doesn’t want you to feel bad about the fact that liars are everywhere – she wants you to be able to work with it.

So do I.

How do I apply all this knowledge about lying in my real estate negotiations?


I refuse to cooperate with a lie or a liar by ALWAYS maintaining my professional objective.

Which is, to negotiate to yes – of course.

To do this, I…

Find Someone to Believe

Just as there are natural instincts and professional strategies to negotiation, so is true for spotting a liar.

Our natural instinct in the presence of a liar might be to get a gut feeling that something isn’t right. Your mom always says, “follow your gut,” for a reason.

But, going with “something doesn’t seem right,” when negotiating a multimillion dollar real estate investment deal really isn’t something you want to hang your hat on.

So, let’s turn to the academic and professional strategies in spotting a liar instead.

Harvard seems like a decent place to start.

Deepak Malhotra is the Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and an expert in negotiation.


Malhotra coauthored with a bunch of other professors what I consider to be the end all be all on the language of deception called Evidence for the Pinocchio Effect: Linguistic Differences Between Lies, Deception by Omission, and Truths.

According to Malhotra and crew, there are two kinds of liars, just the bald-faced lying kind and then those quietly trying to deceive you.

The quiet deceivers are the worst.

You know, this kind:

“Last year saw 997 billion dollars in corporate fraud alone in the United States. That's an eyelash under a trillion dollars. That's seven percent of revenues. Deception can cost billions. Think Enron, Madoff, the mortgage crisis. Or in the case of double agents and traitors, like Robert Hanssen or Aldrich Ames, lies can betray our country, they can compromise our security, they can undermine democracy, they can cause the deaths of those that defend us,” said Meyer in her TED Talk.

But, deceivers are not really all that quiet if you know what to look for.

Big signs to look for:

  • Liars are wordier than people telling the truth and insert plenty of swear words, fancy words, and pronouns for some reason.
  • People trying to deceive you don’t use enough words and tend to speak in really short sentences with a bit of a holier-than-thou authority.

FBI Tactics

There are a few retired FBI agents who have made a good business at helping people spot liars. Two of my favorites are LaRae Quy, who was a counterintelligence and undercover agent for over 20 years, and Joe Navarro, who was a special agent and supervisor in the area of counterintelligence and behavioral assessment for 25 years.

Both of these agents have some pretty cool stuff to share in spotting the lies and liars.

In his book, What Every Body is Saying, Navarro pin points a few telltale signs when someone is probably lying to you.

Let’s take a look:

  1. Lip compression



  1. Ventilating behaviors


That deep uncomfortable breath like Lance’s audible sigh….

  1. Neck touching


Your body becomes naturally stressed and uncomfortable when you lie (so long as you’re not a sociopath) Poor Lance made uncovering his lies really simple.

  1. Turning their body away

This one is subtle and harder to catch on camera, but Navarro suggests watching for the person you are negotiating with to make small movements away from you such as pointing their feet towards the door for an escape.

  1. Eye touching

Done as a gesture of disagreement, Navarro suggests a little eye touch might let you know deception is on the way.


  1. Lowering or hiding thumbs

Kinda weird when you think about it, but Navarro says that where a person’s thumbs are during a negotiation is key.

When a person lowers their thumbs, it is a sign of insecurity or lack of commitment to a deal. Even if they say they’re totally in.

This video, Become a Human Lie Detector, shows a bunch MORE verbal and bodily “tells” of lying…

Beyond Body Language

Agent Quy focused on communication strategies during her time with the FBI and developed a list of techniques that I find helpful to use during real estate negotiations to catch lies and liars.

All of this works perfectly with the principled negotiation techniques we talked about at the beginning of this series.

1. Build rapport

Since you are already doing this through your principled negotiation strategies by using objective criteria and creating options for mutual gain, using the rapport you build with the other side to negotiate your deal will serve you well in helping to spot a liar and even getting past the lie.

2. Leave it open

When you catch a liar, instead of getting angry or yelling “liar,” relay the facts as you know them and instead of asking direct questions about the lie, have the other party fill in the blanks for you to get falsehood out in the open. For example:

“What was our agreement again about the closing?”

3. Surprise them

I like to use this when fill in the blanks doesn’t work. For example,

“Hey, when did you change your mind about our agreement?”

4. Ask for it backward

According to Quy, people telling the truth know the details forward AND backwards. Liars only memorize, or make up their story, one way – from the beginning. To catch a lie, start from the end and go backwards to watch a liar squirm.

5. Withhold a little

If you know a seller is willing to make a deal at a certain price (perhaps because he made the same deal he made with you with an associate of yours too – but at a lower price, and he swears it’s not true) don’t give all the details, let him sweat a bit as you slowly let out the facts.

6. Compliments

Remember when we discussed personality types and I told you:

  1. The analytical personality type is probably the most common personality you’ll run into in this business.
  2. You probably have a bit of an analytical personality.

The showy “Wow, I love your watch,” is not going to work on us or the people we are negotiating with. If someone tries this, it’s most likely a sad sign they’ve run out of ways to try to win us over despite a lie.

7. Watch for changes in behavior

If you start a negotiation with a laid back straight shooter and end up an hour later dealing with one angry dude, chances are he might be trying to deceive you.

As someone becomes stressed out by their lie (because, remember, we are naturally programed to be against them) their behavior will change because lies are stressful!

8. Follow-ups

When you’ve discovered a neck scratching, eye touching, feet pointing to the door situation at some point in your negotiation, don’t let it drop. Follow-up questions are a way of catching a liar red handed because at some point they’re most likely going to contradict themselves.

9. Listen

Quy suggests watching for the following speech indicators:

  • Increased rate of speech
  • Increased volume
  • Natural speech tone cracking
  • Coughing and throat clearing
  • The word “NO”

More on “NO”

Quy says that a person is most likely showing deceptive behavior when they:

  • Say “no” and look in a different direction
  • Say “no” with their eyes closed
  • Say “no” after hesitating
  • Say “noooooooo”
  • Say “no” all singsongy

Why Do We Lie?

So, Meyer says in her TED Talk that we are hard wired to lie and that lying has evolutionary value. Here are a few other fun facts she provides:

  • We lie more to strangers than to people we know.
  • Extroverts lie more than introverts.
  • Men lie 8X more about themselves than they do about other people.
  • Women lie mostly to protect other people.

“Lying's complex. It's woven into the fabric of our daily and our business lives. We're deeply ambivalent about the truth. We parse it out on an as-needed basis, sometimes for very good reasons, other times just because we don't understand the gaps in our lives. That's truth number two about lying. We're against lying, but we're covertly for it in ways that our society has sanctioned for centuries and centuries and centuries. It's as old as breathing. It's part of our culture, it's part of our history. Think Dante, Shakespeare, the Bible, News of the World,” said Meyer.


We lie because we can.

How to Negotiate with the Liars

Stick with your principled negotiation strategies.

  • Separate People from the Problem
  • Focus On Interests Not Positions
  • Invent Options for Mutual Gain
  • Use Objective Criteria

Principled negotiation requires that you focus on what you can control, not what you can’t.

So, instead of spending most of your time trying to decide if someone is lying – Be sure to know the someone you are negotiating with ahead of time.

Do your research.

Google them, ask around, check their social media platforms…

“Forewarned is forearmed – People assume that negotiation begins when you initiate discussions with your counterparty. That’s a mistake. A better strategy is to begin your negotiation with research and planning before you start to bargain. The more you know beforehand, the better prepared you will be to ferret out liars by asking questions whose answers you already know. What is their reputation? What’s important to them in this negotiation? What is their bargaining range? Are you negotiating on a level playing field, or does one of you have more leverage than the other?” Said Dale Hartley Ph.D., MBA who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in business and psychology in his article How to Negotiate with A Liar.

Knowing a fair bit about who you are dealing with can help prevent that awkward feeling you naturally get in your gut when someone is not being truthful.

Remember –  We lie more to strangers than we do to people we know!

Bottom line, know the people you do business with ahead of time. Build a relationship, and make a name for yourself as being a business professional who deals only one way – the honest way.

That is how I…

Have fun. Create value.



Leave a Comment:

(14) comments

I wonder how to negotiate with a liar over the phone.

    Susan Lassiter-Lyons

    You have to listen for audio cues. Pauses, comments, breathing patterns, etc. It’s like when I first started playing poker I played online. It was difficult to discover “tells” but I did. And when I started playing live tournaments it was 100% easier to see the tells.

Joel Rossell

Thanks for the article and the series! Excellent info. Most people look away from me when I know they are lying.

    Susan Lassiter-Lyons

    Thanks Joel!


Very insightful Susan. Research on your opposite party always a good choice.
Allow me to add an additional approach that may not be right for everyone. I am a God centred Christian and have tried to walk my faith for most of my 50+ years of negotiating and building large scale Development deals. I pray about each deal before going into negotiations, for God to close the door on the deal if He doesn’t want me to do the Project, but if He does want me to do the Project, to open the door to allow me to complete the negotiation and build the Project. With that peace going into the negotiation from a seemingly ambivalent position and willing to walk away on a moment’s notice ( i.e. there’s ALWAYS another deal), if the other side has ‘closed the door’ with their position, totally disarms the other side and usually ends up in a win for us…that we also try to characterize as a win for the other side….a ‘win – win’..
No bankruptcies in 50 years and 4 Recessions – maybe worth trying….
Ian Jones MRICS, Pres. BGI Group -Toronto

    Susan Lassiter-Lyons

    I agree. The less attached you are to an outcome, the better you will be at negotiating.


Wondering how you keep them from crossing their arms or their legs? I also have allergies and itchy eyes and nose…would hate to be thought a liar for this.

    Susan Lassiter-Lyons


Ismael Viramontes

this was awesome, I will study this over and over

    Susan Lassiter-Lyons

    Awesome, Ismael!

Stanley Ehnis


    Susan Lassiter-Lyons

    You bet, Stanley.

Dave Rissi

Very good Susan, great blog, but I have a natural cough and allergies, so I agree with about 90percent of the article

    Susan Lassiter-Lyons

    Cool! Thanks for reading.

Add Your Reply

Leave a Comment: