Artful Paltering: The Risks and Rewards of Using Truthful Statements to Mislead Others

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Paltering is the active use of truthful statements to convey a misleading impression. Across 2 pilot studies and 6 experiments, we identify paltering as a distinct form of deception. Paltering differs from lying by omission (the passive omission of relevant information) and lying by commission (the active use of false statements). Our findings reveal that paltering is common in negotiations and that many negotiators prefer to palter than to lie by commission. Paltering, however, may promote conflict fueled by self-serving interpretations; palterers focus on the veracity of their statements (“I told the truth”), whereas targets focus on the misleading impression palters convey (“I was misled”). We also find that targets perceive palters to be especially unethical when palters are used in response to direct questions as opposed to when they are unprompted. Taken together, we show that paltering is a common, but risky, negotiation tactic. Compared with negotiators who tell the truth, negotiators who palter are likely to claim additional value, but increase the likelihood of impasse and harm to their reputations.

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