Negotiation Ethics and Lies at the Negotiation Table

What to Do When a Bargaining Counterpart Lacks Negotiation Ethics and Engages in Deception

By on / Business Negotiations

negotiation ethics and lies at the negotiation table

Negotiation research about negotiation ethics has shown negotiators do engage in deception during bargaining sessions but the practice is not as widespread as many believe. Instead, these ethics in negotiation differ depending on the bargaining environment or context and deception can be a response to what a negotiator perceives as deception of the part of her counterpart. In Negotiation Ethics May Be a Slippery Slope, the negotiation research completed by Simone Moran of Ben Gurion University and Maurice E. Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania was examined. The research suggested a link between jealousy and deceptive practices in negotiations.

As part of the study, the researchers had negotiators paired with participants that they imagined they had competed with and lost in a contest for a job promotion only then to negotiate with the successful competitor or a complete stranger. When negotiating with someone negotiators thought to whom they had lost a competition, the tendency for lies in negotiations increased.


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.


In another negotiation study, bargainers were asked to allocate resources in an “ultimatum game” negotiation role play. Dividing a fixed sum, the participant was tasked with dividing the sum between herself and another person. If the deal were accepted, then the deal would be completed; if not, neither party received anything. A simulation of the importance of information in negotiation – the role play allowed the divider of the resources to know the full amount of money to be allocated and could engage in deception by telling this sum, or not, to her counterpart. Again, envy played a role as participants would award less to those for whom they experienced feelings of envy.

In both studies, ethics were environmentally based and contextually based suggesting that negotiators subconsciously alter norms of behavior at the bargaining table dependent on a variety of contextual factors. In a conflict resolution article featured on this website, Avoid the Green-Eyed Monster, the link between “schadenfreude,” deriving pleasure from someone experience failure or hardship, drives a lot of the envy in bargaining sessions because jealous counterparts engage in deception with counterparts that “deserve to be taken down a notch.”


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 Business Negotiations Article: The Power of Schadenfreude

Originally published on August 2, 2012.

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