Promoting Honesty in Negotiation: An Exercise in Practical Ethics

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"Promoting Honesty in Negotiation: An Exercise in Practical Ethics," (with J. Gregory Dees) Business Ethics Quarterly, 3, 359-394, 1993. Reprinted in Patricia Werhane and Tom Donalson, Ethical Issues in Business: A Philosophical Approach, Prentice-Hall, 1996, and Carrie Menkel-Meadow and Michael Wheeler (eds.), What's Fair, John Wiley & Sons, 2004.



In a competitive and morally imperfect world, business people are often faced with serious ethical challenges. Harboring suspicions about the ethics of others, many feel justified in engaging in less-than-ideal conduct to protect their own interests. The most sophisticated moral arguments are unlikely to counteract this behavior. We believe that this morally defensive behavior is responsible, in large part, for much undesirable deception in negotiation. Drawing on recent work in the literature of negotiations, we present some practical guidance on how negotiators might build trust, establish common interests, and secure credibility for their statements thereby promoting honesty. We also point out the types of social and institutional arrangements, many of which have become commonplace, that work to promote credibility, trust, and honesty in business dealings. Our approach is offered not only as a specific response to the problem of deception in negotiation, but as one model of how research in business ethics might offer constructive advice to practitioners.