The good people of Peterborough go to the polling stations today to elect the MP who will replace Fiona Onasanya. She was removed from office following her conviction for perverting the course of justice, having invented stories which falsely exonerated her from responsibility for speeding (twice). Meanwhile, Anneka Rice has admitted that she invented a fantasy agent, Clemmie Hart, who fielded offers she received for new acting and TV assignments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, at his press conference with Prime Minister May on Tuesday, President Trump invented a large number of flag-waving supporters lining the route of his motorcade through Westminster, and refigured the 100,000 or so anti-Trump protestors to just a few, calling any other description ‘fake news’. And perhaps most poignantly this weekend we remember Operation Fortitude which was based on the invention of armies in Edinburgh and the South of England, preparing to invade Norway and the Pas de Calais, a subterfuge designed to fool the German army and to prompt them to divert their troops away from the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy.
These examples all share a common premise – that reinventing the truth (aka lying) is acceptable and hopefully beneficial. Of course, they do not each have the same moral force – lying to pervert the course of justice is of a very different order to subterfuge as a military tactic. Some negotiators are practised and inveterate inventors, conjuring up non-existent suppliers offering better deals than yours, claiming avaricious buyers who will snap up all the stock if you don’t place your order now, suggesting it is non-existent gatekeepers who are preventing a deal unless a better offer is made. But most of us are far less capable than we think or hope we are and for this reason alone, invention is not a recommended negotiating strategy, but if you are absolutely sure it is right for you in a particular situation these tips might help:
- Make sure that your invention cannot be disproved. President Trump’s claim about the crowds flew in the face of the TV pictures
- Don’t invent unnecessarily. The backdrop to a good lie is that the surrounding details are all true.
- Invent for a purpose. Your fabrications should be tailored to achieve a specific objective, not just because you can.
- Expect to be called out. Over and over again. So give depth to your invention, so that it stands up to scrutiny.
- Never signal that you recognise you have been sussed unless you want the whole house of cards to collapse, as Anneka Rice was happy to see happen.