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How SINS ful Are You?

PGP Mediation
by Phyllis G. Pollack

In a recent blog, I mentioned that I attended a seminar presented by Professor Blondell discussing ethical fading in mediation. At one point, she mentioned the SINS scale which I had not heard about.

In 2000, Robert Robinson, Roy Lewicki and Eileen M. Donahue wrote an article, entitled, Extending and testing a five factor model of ethical and unethical bargaining tactics: introducing the SINS scale, 21 J. Organiz.Behav. 649-664 (2000) (“Article”) in which they introduced this model to determine how ethical one is in negotiations.

The model  covers  five different categories: Traditional competitive bargaining, attacking an opponent’s network, false promises, misrepresentation, inappropriate information gathering.(

The first category- traditional competitive bargaining- asks questions about generally accepted negotiation tactics such as the use of “anchoring” or masking one’s true “BATNA”.

The second category- Attacking an opponent’s network- asks questions aimed at “[p]roactively trying to manipulate an  opponent’s network during a negotiation” such as “..influenc[ing] the other’s side’s management to align with his or her position.” (Id.)

The third category- false promises- is self-evident- making commitments that will not be fulfilled such as agreeing to do something knowing full well it will never get done. (Id.)

The fourth category- misrepresentation- includes “[u]sing misleading information to gain leverage in the negotiation” such as using data “out of context” to make a point.  (Id.)

The final category- inappropriate information gathering”- includes “[u]sing unethical means to gather information to gain a better position” such as using a relationship to learn exactly how much or little the other side is willing to pay to settle. (Id.)

To test the validity of their scale, the authors used 762 first year MBA students enrolled in different sections of a required course on negotiation analysis. The average age of the students was 26.5 years and their average work experience was 4.2 years.(Article at 652.)

The results were interesting. The authors found that only with respect to the first factor- traditional competitive bargaining- was there no difference between men and women. On the other four factors, women were less accepting of the tactics than were men. (Article at 656.) Further, those from western Europe were more likely to endorse the ethically marginal tactics in four of the five categories  than that other groups.  Those from the United States and Canada were not as willing to endorse such marginally ethical tactics as those from western Europe and less so than those from Pacific Rim countries. (Article at 656-657.)

The authors found that education and previous work experience played a role. Business and economic majors were not amoral; rather math, physics majors engineers and other applied scientists appeared to embrace marginally ethical negotiation tactics to a larger degree. (Id. at 658.)

Further, age and experience mattered: the older more experienced worker tended to more ethical.  (Id.) Yet, those with prior negotiation experience tended to score lower on the first factor- traditional competitive bargaining- but scored higher on the third factor- false promises. (Id.)

The authors answered the ultimate question: does using these unethical tactics provide an advantage? “No”, “… there was very little evidence that willingness to endorse tactics translated into any specific negotiation advantage.” (Id. at 659.)

If you are curious about your own SINs score, click here, take the test and score it:

Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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