Negotiators: Keep yourself honest

By — on / Business Negotiations, Daily

Adapted from “When You’re Tempted to Deceive,” by Ann E. Tenbrunsel (professor, the University of Notre Dame) and Kristina A. Diekmann (professor, University of Utah), first published in the Negotiation newsletter, July 2007.

To ensure that you negotiate ethically, you’ll need to identify ethical dilemmas and view unethical behavior clearly. Four guidelines will help you meet these goals:

  1. Set a personal standard. Before entering a negotiation, set a personal ethical standard for your behavior. How ethical do you want to be? Determining in advance which behaviors are off-limits should help you recognize ethical dilemmas when they arise and make decisions that meet your standard. Moreover, make a plan to address specific ethical dilemmas that you may encounter. For example, a well-prepared job candidate should be ready to respond strategically yet ethically to questions about other offers, perhaps by pointing out the benefits of remaining focused on hammering out an offer that satisfies both sides.
  2. Question your perceptions. The more tempted negotiators are to lie, researcher Ann E. Tenbrunsel has found, the more likely they are to believe their opponents will lie to them. Recognize that your perceptions of your counterpart’s ethics may be inaccurate, driven by your own desire to behave unethically.
  3. Enhance your power. If powerlessness motivates deception, it stands to reason that you should work hard to increase your negotiating power. Exploring your outside alternatives is an obvious first step. Roger Fisher of Harvard University has identified several other sources of power: your skills, your knowledge, a strong relationship with your counterpart, and even the generation of an elegant solution. Thinking creatively about sources of power helps you avoid making unethical statements. Even thinking about a negotiation in which you had more power can enhance your sense of power in current talks, Adam D. Galinsky of Northwestern University, Joe Magee of New York University, and Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford University have found.
  4. Personalize your opponent. When negotiating with a group, strive to view each member as an individual. Tenbrunsel, Kristina A. Diekmann, and Charles Naquin’s research has revealed that negotiators are more likely to lie to groups than to individuals, but simply providing the names of group members diminishes that tendency. Getting to know opposing group members will help you adhere to your ethical standards.

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