Are you more ethical than your coworkers? If you’re like most people, you answered yes. Lisa L. Shu and Max H. Bazerman of Harvard Business School and Francesca Gino of the University of North Carolina found in their research that most people think they’re more honest and trustworthy than average. What’s more, through a process known as moral disengagement, we persuade ourselves that our questionable behavior is morally acceptable.
As illustration, suppose that a woman named Sheryl is trying to trade in her current car as part of her negotiation for a new car. Sheryl’s car was once in a major accident, but she doesn’t disclose this fact to the car dealer. She might excuse this “sin of omission” by telling herself that deception is commonplace in car negotiations, that it’s the dealer’s fault for not asking about the car’s history, or that there is no lasting damage from the accident.
Of course, if Sheryl were negotiating to buy her current car from someone else, she would probably be outraged to learn that the seller had hidden an accident from her. In negotiation, when you’re tempted to deceive, put yourself in the other guy’s shoes first.
Adapted from “Negotiators: Guard Against Ethical Lapses,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, June 2009.