Monday, 3 May 2010

The ethical grey area

Although we studied cultural and ethical dimensions of negotiations this week, I have decided to focus on ethical negotiations because of its relevance to the case study. In addition, the ethical grey areas that exist within negotiations are of interest to me.

When the lecture began we were asked if lying during negotiations is ethical. Of course, I immediately said no. However, we were then bombarded with lots of questions about whether exaggerating benefits, downplaying negatives, omissions, saying you don’t know when you do, etc, is lying?
I was slightly stumped. I thought back to the study of BATNAs, and how theory dictates that in most situations they should not be revealed, but is it lying to imply that your BATNA is something different to what it actually is? These questions fall into an ethical grey area.

Thompson identified four aspects to lying in negotiations (2005, pg 166):
1. The speaker is aware that he or she is misrepresenting information
2. Regarding a material fact
3. The other party relies on this fact
4. By doing is so is damaged – economically or emotionally

These aspects are quite obviously unethical because they involve a party being openly deceptive about facts. I think the grey area contains misrepresentations about motivation. Thompson also identified two types of information misrepresentation. The first is passive – a party does not admit their true motivations. The second is active – deliberately misleading another party with a false claim about your motivation (2005, pg 167).

I would agree that passive misrepresentation falls into the grey area, and I would happily use this in a negotiation situation. However I would agree that active misrepresentation is unethical and belongs in the naughty area. Using active misrepresentation is also likely to ‘snowball’ and could cause problems in the future if a future situation is revisited.

With reference to the case study, we are only aware of the factual aspects to the meetings. However I would imagine that there were deceptions in the grey area. One of the borough councils in the negotiation had only just implemented a new performance management system, and other councils were trying to convince them to install a new system in collaboration with the rest of them.

Whilst this would benefit all of the councils collectively and save money overall, this borough council was likely to lose out individually. I can imagine that benefits were oversold and disadvantages ignored by the other councils whose true motivations may have been to benefit themselves in the long run.

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