The Slippery Slope of Negotiations!

PGP Mediation
by Phyllis G. Pollack

Every so often, I glance at the blog posts on the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School website and one caught my eye. It is  entitled “Ethics in Negotiations: How to Deal with Deception at the Bargaining Table  written by the PON staff and posted on June 11, 2019.   I found it interesting since I teach mediation ethics at USC Gould School of Law. As mediation IS all about negotiation, ethical issues occur in any mediation.

The author discusses four reasons why a negotiator might proceed down the slippery slope of an ethical lapse. The first is “the lure of temptation.”. A negotiator may lie if the reward is lucrative. In a study quoted by the authors, the researchers found that the “[t]he higher reward provided a significant temptation to lie.” (Id.)

A second way down the slippery slope is the “uncertainty attraction.”. That is “Uncertainty increases the likelihood that we will be unethical.” (Id.) “Uncertainty about the material facts in negotiation can inspire unethical behavior.”  (Id.) This was shown in a study in which the participants were not sure of the estimate of the market share of their make-believe product. Rather than providing cautious estimates of that market share, they tended to be more aggressive in their estimates. (Id.)

Then there is “the power of powerlessness.” Although the adage, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is well known, researchers found that a lack of power  is more likely to lead to “corruption” or dishonesty. (Id.)  Again, in another study, researchers found that a lack of alternatives caused negotiators to be more deceptive. Thus, if a negotiator has one of two options vs one of many, she is liable to more deceptive in the former than in the latter. (Id.)

And finally,… there is the “anonymous victims.” Once more a study found that if one is negotiating face to face with an individual, she is less likely to lie or be deceptive than if she is negotiating with a person who merely represents a group of individuals. In the latter situation, the participants lied about 73% of the time while in a face to face negotiation with another person only, the participant lied about 36% of the time. In sum, it is easier to lie when the other person represents a faceless mass than representing herself and only herself.

The worse thing about this slippery slope is that one may not even be aware that she is sliding down it.  In large part it may be somewhat unconscious or subconscious. We do it without really realizing what we are doing, or worse, we do realize it but give ourselves “permission” because it is only an itsy-bitsy tiny transgression.  What we don’t realize, is that we just started down that slippery slope and the next transgression will be a bit bigger, and the one after that, a little larger than the last and so on  until we find ourselves at the bottom of a very steep slippery slope with no way to rid ourselves of the deceptive web we have just weaved.

In sum… it is perhaps wisest to avoid all temptation of the slippery slope of negotiations!

… 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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