May 2012 | Negotiation & Persuasion
Wharton Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics and Management Richard Shell recently reviewed Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight by Robert Mnookin, exploring the question of whether it is morally acceptable to negotiate with “Devils” (defined in the book as certifiably “evil” people such as Hitler, terrorists, and racists). This question is extremely relevant to those Shell teaches in Executive Negotiation Workshop: Bargaining for Advantage®. Some of the executives in the program come to Wharton with their own versions of bargaining with the devil, and their stories yield important insights for the others whose negotiations are, in contrast, less extreme.
“A typical discussion at the beginning of the program includes high-risk situations in which people’s jobs, or their division’s profits, might be on the line,” notes Shell. “Then we hear from a Navy Seal whose life has been on the line. United Nations delegates have similar stories. And executives from Russia and Nigeria share their experiences dealing with corruption and bribery and even being kidnapped. Our participants are living with issues of morality in business. There may be a wide range of issues, but they’re real, and the discussions are an important part of the program.”
He continues, “The implications for these discussions reach far into organizations, whether they’re operating in a war zone or developing economy or not. Most executives can find themselves in difficult negotiations where a moral question is involved.”
Shell explains that the injection of morality takes negotiating beyond familiar bargaining theory — the well-known tactics of interest-based negotiations don’t always apply. In his review of Mnookin’s book, he advances a framework for thinking about these difficult decisions that he calls Identity-Based Bargaining. “Negotiations that involve ethical considerations must be decided as rationally as possible,” Shell says, “but we need to expand the idea of ‘rationality’ beyond the confines of cost-benefit analysis to include reasoned consideration of obligation, duty, and identity.”
Specifically, he proposes some questions for assisting in this “identity-based” decision making:
These questions can help you perform a moral inquiry about whether or not to negotiate. Shell emphasizes the complexity of such situations, noting, “Executive Negotiation Workshop doesn’t teach you one theory or tactic. Negotiations are as complex as the individuals involved. Whether they’re acting on good faith, they’re ethically challenged, or even if they’re truly evil, it may be your job to engage. You need a range of ways to do that.”
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