Other pages in this series:
» Nonverbal Communication in Negotiation
» Is it lying?
Ethics in Negotiation: some starting thoughts
Negotiation is all about meeting one's interests. These include explicit goals (I want to get a 5% raise) but also less conscious or public interests (After what he did to me, he deserves to lose. She's got to learn that I am the manager and I make the decisions here. ). When someone else stands in the way, the negotiator faces the core ethical issue of negotiation: when are my needs and wants more important than treating this person in a moral or socially acceptable manner? Whatever choice you make may involve significant costs to yourself, to the other party, to the wider community. Often the "right" thing to do is not clear.
Here are some starting points for thinking about ethical choices you face as a negotiator:
1. Ethical judgments are made in social context:The type of work you choose and the type of people you hang out with, will eventually shape your ethical choices as a negotiator. If you care about having honest and forthright relations with others, think carefully about what kind of friends, colleagues, clients you want to have in your life.
2. Even if you choose to lie or be unethical,be honest with yourself --if you are deceptive, you can end up rationalizing your actions to yourself also. Over time, you may get in the habit of lying or using other tactics that are unnecessarily risky or harmful.
3. There are many unethical negotiation behaviors besides lying.For example: harmful or cruel treatment of others, illegal or unethical threats and coercion, bribes, kickbacks, corruption, preventing parties from participating or selling them out if they aren't at the table, demeaning other parties/groups of people, hate-talk, threats or actions of violence, ruining someone's reputation without cause, etc.
4. Be aware of tradeoffs: Self protection, "bluffing", and distrust also have a costWhile we worry a lot about the price we might pay for being forthright or for extending a measure of trust the other party, there is also a price to pay for withholding information, lying, or being suspicious of them. In addition to the relationship costs of distrust, and the anger of feeling mistreated, you can incur significant business expenses for protective measures such as fact-finding, inspections, legal discovery processes, drawing up legal contracts, keeping detailed records, certification, etc.
5. Relationship is almost always a factor.Transactional negotiations lend themselves to unethical behavior but even in short one-time interactions, relationship matters. You may think you'll never meet someone again but you never know who your company will hire next year, who might become a potential client, a political adversary, a useful connection.... And the way you handle negotiations is noticed by the people around you with whom you may have more signficant relationships.
Legal Standard for FraudOne starting point for ethical choices is "what's legal"? In the US, fraud is:
Of course lawyers can argue for hours about whether an action fits this set of conditions. It's up to you as a negotiator to choose how close to the cliff edge you want to skate.
Conditions for Deception
If you find yourself in these circumstances, be particularly alert to possible deception:
Protections that Promote Honesty
Mechanisms, formal and informal, that can help build and sustain trust between negotiating parties: