Imagine that you are part of a bargaining team that has been engaged in negotiations for 6 long months. One night, as you are getting ready to leave and are gathering your things, you notice a piece of green paper on the ground near where a member of the opposite negotiation team was sitting just a few minutes earlier. When you pick it up, you realize that it is a list of the ideal outcome for the other team.
At first you are ecstatic—this is the information you need to end these negotiations! Then you begin to recall your organizational behavior course and all those ethical dilemmas that seemed so easy back then. What should you do? Should you use the information for your team? I mean, why not, they were careless enough to leave it behind? On the other hand, would that be ethical?
Thinking back to that OB course, you recall some key questions you should ask yourself during negotiations:
- Would this be honest?
- Would this involve keeping my promises?
- Would I be following the Platinum Rule and be “treating people the way they want to be treated?”
As you are pondering these questions, you also realize that this is a key decision. There are some additional questions you should ask yourself around making ethical decisions if you plan on using this information to help your team:
- Is this decision fair?
- Will I feel better or worse about myself after I make this decision?
- Does this decision break any organizational rules?
- Does this decision break any laws?
- How would I feel if this decision were broadcast on the news?
Just as you think you’ve made your decision, a member from the opposing team walks back in and asks you if you’ve seen a green piece of paper.
- What would you do?
- What are the ethical dilemmas involved?
- How would you justify your choice?
- What would be the consequences of your choice?
A Case of Listening: When Silence Is Golden (Devine, 2002)
Listening can be an effective tool during negotiations. William Devine was representing a client on a land purchase. “The owner and I spent 2 hours on the phone horse-trading contract issues, then turned to the price,” Devine explained. “We were $100,000 apart.” The owner then said, “The price your client proposes will leave us well short of our projections. That makes it very tough on us.” The line went silent.
“My impulse was to say something in response to the silence, and I started to speak, then stopped. As I hesitated, I sensed that if I said, ‘My client can pay all cash,’ or ‘It’s still a good deal for you,’ then the owner would take my comment as an invitation to joust, we would battle over the hundred grand, and my client would end up having to pay some or all of that sum. The owner had not asked a question or proposed a compromise, so no response was required from me at that moment. I decided to remain silent. After what felt like days but was probably less than 30 seconds, I heard, ‘But I guess it’s good for us [i.e., his company] to just get this deal done, so we’ll do it.’”
Devine saved his client $100,000 by staying silent.
Questions to Think About
- What does this case suggest about the role of silence in negotiations?
- Have you ever had a similar experience when saying nothing paid off?
- Are there times when silence is a bad idea? Explain your answer.
Devine, W. (2002, September 30). Anatomy of a deal-maker. California Real Estate Journal. Retrieved November 14, 2008 from http://www.wdesquire.com/pages/dealmaker.html.