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To disclose or not to disclose, that is the question

When it comes to the royal family, I’m a bit agnostic.


However, like a lot of people, I was genuinely concerned when I heard the news of the Princess of Wales’ cancer diagnosis. With one in two of us predicted to develop cancer at some time during our lives, it’s something that most people can sympathise or empathise with - there is a difference.


From a conflict point of view, I was intrigued by the social media storm and conspiracy theories that surrounded her recent withdrawal from public life with, at the time, no reasons given.


Robert Cialdini, the godfather of persuasion, suggests that the best way to maintain somebody’s interest in a topic or issue is to turn it into a ‘mystery’ - with key parts of the puzzle left unresolved. For Kate, this premise worked against her understandable desire not to talk about this intensely personal matter. Unfortunately, without the facts, people will ‘fill in the gaps’. This conjecture of course can be far worse than the truth – hence the wild conspiracy theories that followed…


This was reinforced for me recently when during a negotiating scenario I had a group of disgruntled Account Managers asking their senior management how much their colleagues - the Account Directors were paid. The response was predictable - ‘That’s nothing to do for you’. The next 30 minutes were focused solely on this subject only, rather than the more pressing objective of how both sides could agree on a range of measures that would help to keep the business solvent. Afterwards, I asked the Account Managers how much they thought the Account Directors were paid – their guess was about 32% more than the truth.


There will always be times in negotiations, or more general conversations when we’re asked questions that we feel that legitimately we cannot answer for one reason or another. It’s important that we first identify these potential problem areas in our planning process beforehand. We then need to push back on our restrictions – what would happen if we did disclose this information? What would be the positives/negatives and how might this affect the result? If, after reviewing as part of our planning, we decide that we still can’t answer, are there other ways that we can address the ‘need’ that lies behind this question instead? For example, ‘There are currently tight financial constraints on the business and whilst I can’t discuss other people’s salaries, would a conversation about how additional responsibilities can enhance your package, be of interest to you?’


Disclosing information is an important way in which we can structure the expectations of the other side in our conflict discussions (e.g. back off, this is a private family issue). Failure to do this can mean that your ‘counterpart’ (or in Kate’s case, social media) gets so intrigued and obsessed with the mystery, that they’ll create the wrong issue and the wrong solution – both of which are unhelpful in the pursuit of constructive conflict resolution.

*Photograph supplied by

Sam Macbeth, 9th April 2024

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