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12 Ethics in Negotiations

12 Ethics in Negotiations

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Published by: blueindia on Feb 05, 2010
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12Ethics in Negotiations
 Negotiators face an acute dilemma at some stage during the negotiation likesituations where they do not know what would be the right thing to do. Also,where they know what is right, but fail to do it, because of competitive or organisational pressures.
In this book, ethical issues of right versus wrong, as also conflicts of rightversus right, and navigating even those situations where the right course is clear must have occurred to readers especially where the discussions started on the placeof power in negotiation and thereafter. In all my classroom teaching, there werealways some who could not easily accept the seeming manipulation,manoeuvering, and even deceptions that were advocated as legitimate negotiating behaviour.Howard Raiffa discusses ethical and moral issues in negotiations in his classicwork,
The Art and Science of Negotiation.
He asks the question that is natural inthe context of the discussion in this book: "Should you be open and honest in theshort run because it is right to act that way, even though it might hurt you in thelong run?" Whenever I have put this question to my students, the response has not been different from what Raiffa got from his students. Nobody said that he or shewould always be open and honest. Many initially said they would be unhappyabout it, but later on reflection could see that there would be times when their (or their organisation's) self-interest would require some lack of openness andhonesty. Readers must have faced ethical dilemmas many times while reading this book, or in their daily business life..Is it right to develop discards – concessions of little cost which you can giveaway but always in exchange for some concession in return? Should youdeliberately start with a high price, near your limit so long as you can support it(your M.S.P. – maximum supportable position) because then the settlement will'anchor' itself near that price even though your L.A.R. and your BATNA (leastacceptable result and best alternative to a negotiated agreement) are much lower?And would you have been satisfied with a lower price? In the discussion on power and its use in negotiations, tactics such as changing power perceptions, and building and destroying coalitions were discussed. Are these not on the borderlineof deception? The chapter on tactics has many suggestions for dealing withdifferent situations, many of which must have seemed unethical. In discussing behaviour, withdrawal is seen as a legitimate strategy in order to put pressure. Is1
'putting on an act' deceptive behaviour? Similarly, we discussed time pressure andhow it can be used to advance your cause.These are only some of the instances of the ethical and moral dilemmas thatnegotiators face. While 'creating value' is at the centre of principled negotiations,no negotiator can forget that he has to 'claim value' for himself and hisorganisation. In 'claiming value', the negotiator is jockeying for a better position inrelation to the other party. There is tension between these two value-seeking behaviours that is at the centre of the ethical problem.As Andrew Stark 
in his HBR article says: " The fact is, most people's motivesare a confusing mix of self-interest, altruism, and other influences." According tohim, instead of grappling with this complexity, many times we get diverted intothinking that our actions "cannot be ethical unless (they) in no way serve" our self-interest. There seems to be a view that genuinely ethical action must hurt the actor.In this "messy world of mixed motives" we must identify a set of workable virtuesfor negotiators. One of these is toughness. "Neither callously self interested nor  purely altruistic, virtuous toughness involves both a 'willingness to do what isnecessary', and an 'insistence on doing it as humanely as possible'." The articlementions other such morally complex virtues such as courage, fairness, sensitivity, persistence, honesty, and gracefulness. "Ethical actions don't take place in splendidisolation: in practice, for example, ethics seems to rest on reciprocity." This principle of 'mutual trust' and reciprocity is another useful way to deal with theethical dilemma.We must, therefore, at the end, return to the definition with which we started inChapter 1 ('Overview'): Negotiation is about a perceived conflict between two or more parties who are, committed to a long-term relationship and are alsocommitted to implement the agreement. So long as these two commitments exist,negotiators will know the extent to which they can go in 'claiming value', pushingtheir self-interest, and using strategies and behaviours that could be seen asmanipulative or deceptive. None of the parties in the negotiation can afford tohave the other party begin to distrust or disbelieve it. Indeed, the purpose of thenegotiation is to develop mutual trust and understanding. The negotiator mustalways keep in mind that he is going to work closely with the other parties to thenegotiation, in implementing the agreement. If he bluffs or deceives, it will create problems in proper implementation later.In real life we accept a certain amount of power play, and even absorb a degreeof bluff and deception. So long as behaviour is acceptable, it could be said to beethical in negotiation. When it is counter productive, it ceases to be ethical. We arenot therefore talking about an absolute standard of ethical behaviour. If thecontinuance of the negotiation and its implementation is jeopardised, that behaviour is not suitable. So long as the negotiation makes progress and nothing2
that is said or done will effect the commitment of all parties to implement theagreement, it is ethical. The negotiator is the best judge during the negotiation asto what qualifies as right or ethical behaviour.
1. Laura L. Nash from "Good Intentions Aside: A Manager's Guide to ResolvingEthical Problems," quoted in Andrew Stark's, "What is the matter with BusinessEthics?,"
 Harvard Business Review,
May-June, 1993.2. Howard Raiffa,
The Art and Science of Negotiation,
Harvard University Press,1982 (Chapter 25, Ethical and Moral Issues).3. Andrew Stark, "What is the Matter with Business Ethics?,"
 Harvard Business Review,
May-June, 1993.3

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