As we’ve discussed in previous articles about negotiation in business, a negotiator’s beliefs concerning negotiation ethics are affected by cognitive biases. You probably can recall times when a negotiating opponent made what appeared to be a blatant misstatement. If you’re like most people, you assumed the person was lying to gain an advantage. But what if she genuinely believed in the false claim? It’s not easy to offer the benefit of the doubt, especially when the stakes are high.
Reasonable, fair-minded negotiators often find themselves in such situations—accusing others of unethical behavior or facing such accusations themselves. Either way, the negotiation may head down a path that leads to impasse and destroys the relationship.
Negotiation in Business: Overcoming Bias in Negotiations
To fully understand the constraints on your own negotiating ability, you need to overcome the common assumption that ethically challenged behavior always results from a conscious decision to engage in self-rewarding behavior. In fact, the unethical behaviors that we routinely engage in during negotiation in business are more likely to spring from ordinary psychological processes than from intentionally corrupt behavior.
Here’s one example:
- Do you value the elderly and young people equally?
- Do you believe that women are just as capable of scientific achievement as men are?
- Are you free of prejudice towards those who are disabled, overweight, or of a different religion?
You may think that you’re unbiased when it comes to race, gender, age, and so on, but the truth may surprise you. To test yourself, try out a demonstration at http://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/. The Association Test, or IAT, explores your underlying attitudes—for instance, by assessing how easily you pair words such as “good” and “evil” with images of people who fall into racial categories such as “Black” and “White.” The results may reveal that you’re not as open-minded as you thought you were. For instance, people who consider themselves to be unbiased and fair are often surprised to discover that, try as they might, they have much more trouble associating the word “good” with “Black” than with “White.”
If your results are disappointing, don’t despair. Awareness of your implicit attitudes is an important first step toward identifying and correcting them. Before approaching the bargaining table, remind yourself to anticipate the errors that can get in the way of a solution that is good for you and for your organization.
Knowing the best options away from the negotiation table can help equip negotiators for more effective bargaining. In this article negotiation tactics for identifying and maximizing the value of a negotiator’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) is discussed. Read BATNA Examples – Negotiation Tactics for Creating Value in Business Negotiations to learn more.
We would love to hear your stories of negotiation in business. Leave us your story in the comments.
Adapted from “When Good People (Seem to) Negotiate in Bad Faith,” by Max H. Bazerman (professor, Harvard Business School), Dolly Chugh (professor, New York University), and Mahzarin R. Banaji (professor, Harvard University) published in Negotiation.
Originally posted in 2011.