The art of negotiation seems to be very much in the news today, with issues involving trade, tariffs, immigration, arms sales, nuclear arms, et cetera.

In preparing to teach a class on negotiation ethics as part of my Mediation Ethics course at USC Gould School of Law, it dawned on me that the leaders of the world use different ethical approaches to negotiation, and they may even vary their approach depending on the situation and with whom they are negotiating.

In Chapter Nine in Ethics in Negotiation, Roy Lewicki ( 6th ed. McGraw-Hill/Irwin  2006) discusses the different ethical approaches one may take in negotiation.

First, there is the Utilitarianism or “end-results” approach in which it is the result that matters, not how one got there. (Id. at 257-260.) Or, in short, the “end justifies the means.” Thus, the “rightness of an action is determined by considering the consequences.” (Id. at 258.) This approach espoused by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill considers “happiness” as the key: “Actions are more right if they promote more happiness, more wrong as they produce unhappiness.” (Id.)

Then there is the “Duty Ethics” or Deontology approach espoused by Immanuel Kant. Here, the “rightness of an action is determined by considering obligations to apply universal standards and principles.” (Id. at 258.)  It is not the result that counts but rather the duty or obligation to follow “primary moral principles” (Id.) Or, what one “ought” to do. It is the philosophy epitomized when someone tells us, “I don’t care about the money; it is the principle that matters!” (Id. at 258, 260-262)

A third approach is found in many Asian countries where it is the community or what is good for the collective whole that matters. This Social Contract Ethics states that “…the rightness of an action is determined by the customs and social norms of a community.” (Id. at 262.)  Espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, this approach urges “that societies, organizations, and cultures determine what is ethically appropriate and acceptable for themselves and then indoctrinate new members as they are socialized into the fabric of the community.” (Id. at 262.) Thus, the “community” becomes the “moral body” “for determining ground rules.” And most importantly, “What is best for the common good determines the ultimate standard.” (Id. at 259.) Examples of this philosophy may be found in any large organizational culture in which “group think” has taken ahold of its members.

The final approach is based on our own individual moral conscience. Entitled “personalistic ethics”, it provides that “the rightness of an action is determined by one’s own conscience.” (Id. at 259.) Thus, our “personal decision rules are the ultimate standards.” (Id.) The simple question is whether after you have made a certain decision, are you able to look at yourself in the mirror the next morning? Or, what would be your reaction if your decision appeared on the front page of the newspaper the next morning?  (See, 263-264.)

So- as you read the newspaper, watch the news or even engage in your own negotiations, take a moment to analyze not only your ethical approach to negotiation but the ethical approach being used by those in the news or by your counterpart. That moment of reflection may result in a better understanding of what is going on in the world today, and on a more personal level,may help you reach your goal of resolution.

…. Just something to think about.


Do you like what you read?

If you would like to receive this blog automatically by e mail each week, please click on one of the following plugins/services:

and for the URL, type in my blog post address: and then type in your e mail address and click "submit".

Copyright 2021 Phyllis G. Pollack and, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Phyllis G. Pollack and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.