by Nancy B. Rapoport, Gordon & Silver, Ltd.
There is great value in deciding what style of negotiator you are… then sticking with the style that makes you comfortable (That reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Dead Again—Paramount Pictures, 1991). In that movie, the disbarred—if that’s a word—psychiatrist, Cozy Carlisle, played by Robin Williams, says, “Someone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that. If you’re a nonsmoker, you’ll know.” So here are three styles of negotiators that you might be:

1. The Poker School Style: Rules are defined by the law and everything within the rules is ok (everything outside the rules is unethical).
2. The “Do the Right Thing” Idealist School Style: Bargaining is just an aspect of social life, not a special game with a special set of rules. If it’s wrong to lie in other aspects of life, it’s wrong to lie in bargaining. If you’re not asked a direct question, you don’t have to lie. You also don’t have to answer every question that you’re asked.
3. The “What Goes Around Comes Around” Pragmatist School: Deception is a necessary part of the negotiation process, but there’s a preference not to lie if there’s a better alternative. Lying is bad because of its long-term effects on credibility. The difference between this school and the Idealist school is the difference between a rule, “I won’t lie” and a standard, “I will only lie if I absolutely have to, and there are certain things about which I will never lie.” The difference between the Idealist and the Pragmatist is the willingness to lie at all.

Ultimately, there are no easy answers to ethical issues in negotiations, but there are some boundaries. Try never to lie about issues that are material to the deal—remember that a good reputation is worth its weight in gold, and a bad one is almost impossible to repair.
Reprinted from ASSET 2.0, the Investment Recovery Business Journal, Vol. 3, 2008

© The Investment Recovery Association