The Negotiator Magazine

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Negotiation is not a competitive sport.  In competitive sports, the object is to end up winning the game, the race, or the event.  Negotiators who focus on treating other parties as opponents run the risk of ending up with reluctant counterparties to whatever agreements may be reached.  Unless all the parties are fully committed to their agreement, it may well fall apart; in those circumstances the negotiation has failed.

The ethics of negotiation should be based on several understandings:

  1. Reluctant partners make undependable partners­ so treating negotiation partners with respect and honesty simply makes common sense.

  2. Negotiators need to recognize up front that the only reason to use negotiation to resolve a conflict, agree on a project, or conclude a sale is because other parties may be able to add value an individual or a single company cannot do acting alone.

  3. Transparency in the negotiation process is far more likely to bring about buy-in than hidden agendas or tricky maneuvers.

  4. Other parties have feelings

Thus the Golden Rule of treating others as you would wish to be treated has the bottom line value of increasing other parties’ enthusiasm about negotiating with you as well as their enthusiasm about the ultimate agreement.

Good negotiation ethics: honesty, transparency, respect for others are all genuinely pragmatic approaches to use.  A negotiatorąs reputation is not unlike that of a restaurant: if you have a bad meal, you are not likely to return.  And a negotiator with whom others donąt want to deal is effectively out of business.

Steven P. Cohen, President of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. ( and author of Negotiating Skills for Managers (McGraw-Hill, 2002) was awarded his Masters degree in Business Ethics by Henley Management College (UK).

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September 2004