Peoples’ willingness to accept weak claims is big news at the moment. How do people differentiate between fake and real news? And if we are in a negotiation, how do we apply our bullsh!t meter to detect spin, distraction or straight deception?

From the other side of the table we might ask: how do we propagate inaccurate beliefs? How do we affirm a false sense of accuracy in their thinking? How do we promote ‘familiarity’ with something that’s not true? How can opinion defeat data?

Can you differentiate fake news from the real?

Research suggests people who overclaim their level of knowledge and display shallowness with analytical thinking have difficulty differentiating real news from fake news. The mediator of these choices is identity – how people see themselves. Fake news is counter-culture, a rebellion, a reflexive open-mindedness. Its base lies in the identity of victimhood, hence they choose tribalism over cooperation, opinion over data. If the fake news gives a voice, power, identity, then the data hardly matters. It’s harder for those people to tell the difference between real or fake news, and it suits them not to try too hard. Who published it can prompt blind allegiance. The familiarity of a headline or a sound bite, whatever its quality, can be enough to sway opinion, because the consumer’s identity has been affirmed.

Negotiation through the looking glass…

Consider the lenses of powerlessness or dominance, of religion or science, of isolation or community, of fear or aspiration. If I believe I am powerless (a victim), I may be seduced by conspiracy. If isolated (abandoned), seduced by a revolutionary cause. If fearful (vulnerable), by a fightback through anger. In this context, the ‘suspect’ social beliefs that people have can be writ large, and social media is an excellent medium for connecting them with each other.

Here are our key take-aways for the effective negotiator:

  • The content is incidental. All negotiators pursue outcomes that fit how they see themselves. This fires the narrative they want to tell when they leave the room. What story do you want them to tell?
  • Don’t play the cards dealt, play the person across from you. Who are they, what’s their story? Take the time to build a relationship during formal and informal time. Negotiators who don’t prepare, don’t ‘connect’, who just ‘get down to business’, are vulnerable to fake news. Their analysis will be too one-dimensional.
  • Observe breaks in continuity. What identity was trodden on or affirmed when the words turned red, the tonality became shrill, the body language big and close. Or when the words dried up, the tonality softened, and body language turned to stone.
  • Observe the incongruities. What does it mean when the words are cold behind the smile? When good questions are deftly avoided? When the data says one thing, and the rhetoric another?
  • Observe how your allies interpret fake news. Understand this is what they will offer you if your disagreements threaten them.
  • Prepare sound bites that will resonate with identity. Three-word slogans, whatever their content, have a habit of cutting through. “The most powerful force in the human psyche is people’s need for their words and actions to stay consistent with their identity – how we define ourselves”. (Tony Robbins)

In the end, all outcomes are driven by what people choose to believe. Looking at data through our different lenses and identities determines its meaning, and thereby the actions we take and the outcomes we achieve. Uncovering beliefs is one reason why we explore the other party’s mindset during pre-negotiation, and invest in open questions in our negotiation process.