Becoming a More Ethical Negotiator

By — on / Business Negotiations

Adapted from “When Good People (Seem to) Negotiate in Bad Faith” by Max H. Bazerman, Dolly Chugh, and Mahzarin R. Banaji for the Negotiation newsletter.

Given the prevalence of corporate scandals in recent years, many have questioned whether ethics training for professionals has done much good.

One of the reasons that such training has achieved limited success is its focus on intentional, explicitly unethical behavior. Such training encourages students to do what is right rather than what is profitable. Yet, most professionals are not ethically challenged at an explicit level and those who are may be unreceptive to the messages of ethics training.

Once you overcome the common assumption that unethical behavior is always intentional, you are freed identify ways in which your behavior is inconsistent with your ethical preferences. This mindset also allows you to better understand the behavior of your negotiation counterparts and to strengthen your relationship with them.

One simple tool for eliminating ordinary unethical behavior is the use of contingent agreements, also known as profit sharing agreements, risk-sharing agreements and bets. Contingent agreements link the payment or other awards to future outcomes such as product delivery or customer satisfaction and thereby reduce the risk of unethical behavior.

For instance, if a salesperson on commission attests that his product is the best available you might ask how that superiority can be measured and align your payment was performance. If the product turns out to be disappointing, he’ll have to accept a lower payment. Finally, avoid accusing others of unethical behavior when their actions could have been unintentional. After all, it’s quite possible that they believe take issue with one of your clients next.

Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Related Article: Childhood Memories and Morality: Do Memories Lead You to Behave More Ethically?

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One Response to “Becoming a More Ethical Negotiator”

  • Sean S.

    Nice article. I can relate to a lot of this as I work in the precious metals industry, and it’s rife with unethical behavior, especially in regards to buying gold. It’s crazy how many people get ripped off by unethical buyers.


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