Why Is Sincerity Important In A Negotiation?

Do negotiators have to mean what they say?
Do negotiators have to mean what they say?
Image Credit: Ryan Milani

Just exactly how important is honesty when it comes to negotiating? Sure we’d like to always be able to tell the truth, but sometimes it sure seems like it would make life just a little bit easier if we either didn’t say something or if we bent the truth just a bit. Likewise, can we really trust what the other side of the table is telling us? During a negotiation, in order to be successful no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being usedyou want to avoid deception and find ways to build trust with the other side.

What Does It Mean To Be Unethical?

When we think about people being unethical, we normally believe that this is a decision that they’ve made. However, there is the possibility that the other side does not realize that their behavior is unethical. Even if they do realize that it is unethical, they may justify what they are doing in this specific case. This is exactly how deception works its way into a negotiation.

When an ethical dilemma shows up, it can be more obvious to someone who is outside of the negotiation rather than to those who are involved in the negotiations. The people who study such things have found that there is a process that they call “ethical fading”. This happens when “… the ethical colors of a moral decision fade into bleached hues…void of moral implications.” Ethical fading can start to show up when one side of a negotiation starts to practice self-deceit. In order to view themselves as a moral person, this person is going to start to hide moral aspects of decisions that they are making from themselves. This can lead to a long slow slide into unethical behavior where numbers start to get fudged a little bit and then a lot.

The troubling news here is that negotiators who realize that they are facing an ethical dilemma may still not make the right decision. What can happen in a situation like this is that we may end up turning our moral self-sanctions off and this will allow us to behave immorally. The way that we’ll permit ourselves to do this is by displacing responsibility (“It’s really their fault”) or minimizing the consequences (“It’s not a big deal”). You may even end up blaming the other side by saying that they were asking for it.

How To Be Sincere During A Negotiation

If you want to become known as being a sincere and ethical negotiator, then you are going to have to find a way to battle the forces that are behind deception in a negotiation. This means that you are going to have to be able to identify ethical dilemmas, see unethical behavior clearly, and find a way to do battle with the forces of deception. The first thing that you are going to have to do is to set a personal ethical standard for yourself. By doing this you will be able determine in advance what behaviors you view as being off-limits. This should help you to recognize when you are facing an ethical dilemma and make decisions that will meet your ethical standards.

Your perceptions are what are going to guide your behavior. This means that you need to take the time to question what your perceptions are. One of the most important things that you need to realize is that the more that you are going to be tempted to lie during a negotiation, the more you are going to believe that the other side is lying to you. This is not necessarily the case. What you are going to have to realize as a negotiator is that your perception of the other side’s ethics may be wrong. The reason that you are viewing them this way is because you are tempted to act in an unethical manner.

One of the reasons that we may be tempted to behave in an unethical manner during a negotiation is because we believe that we are powerless. In order to make sure that you don’t act this way, you should find ways to increase your negotiating power. In order to boost your negotiating power, you need to take the time to explore your outside alternatives. The good news is that there are a number of different sources that you can draw negotiating power from: your knowledge of what is being negotiated, your negotiating skills, the relationship that you have with the other side of the table, and, if you can create it, a clever solution to what is being negotiated. Keep in mind that if you can think creatively about what your sources of power are, then this can help keep you from taking unethical actions.

What All Of This Means For You

If you could determine the characteristics of the person that you were going to be negotiating with next, what would they be? If you are like most of us, sincerity and honesty would be up towards the top of your list. Since they would probably want the same thing in you, we need to figure out how to avoid being deceptive during a negotiation and find ways to build trust with the other side.

When somebody acts unethically during a principled negotiation, they may not realize that they are acting that way. They find ways to justify their actions. When one side of a negotiation starts to make poor ethical decisions, this is called “ethical fading”. When a negotiator realizes that they are making bad ethical decisions, they may decide to turn off their moral self-sanctions. In order to become known as a sincere negotiator, you are going to have to set a personal ethical standard for yourself. To understand how you make ethical decisions, you need to take the time to question what your perceptions are. We always need to remember that we are not powerless and we can’t allow that to cause us to make poor ethical decisions.

Your reputation as a negotiator is one of your most valuable assets. If you want the other side to deal with you honestly, then you are going to have to prove to them that you are sincere and trustworthy. This means that you’ll need to be able to detect when an ethical decision has to be made and then you’ll have to be strong enough to make the right decision. If you can avoid the temptation to make poor ethical decisions, then you’ll be able to be a very successful negotiator.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: When faced with an ethical decision, so you think that you should stop the negotiation so that you have enough time to make the right decision?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you view starting a negotiation as going into battle, then you’d like to be able to start things off being balanced. Neither side should have too much of an advantage, both should show up ready to do battle on a level playing field using their own set of negotiation styles and negotiating techniques. However, as always seems to be the case in life, things don’t always work out this way. In the world of negotiations you can find yourself at a distinct disadvantage right off the bat if you are negotiating with someone who is your sole supplier for a given product or service. What’s a negotiator to do now?