Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is Negotiation Ethical or Exploitative?

Is negotiation ethical? Before you answer that question, think of all the times you negotiate with friends and family without even knowing it.  Pizza vs. sushi; watching football vs. going shopping; sitting on the couch vs. doing laundry.

But then, think of the time you learned that your friend spends $400 less a year on cable and gets the same level of service. Or consider how you would feel if you found out a younger colleague who does the same job as you at work is making $25,000 more a year. 

Whether you like it or not, negotiation is part of life. And while it feels great when you make deal, it feels horrible when you've been exploited. Since September, I have been taking a class on Negotiation at Baruch College, as part of its part-time MBA program. Each week, we split up into pairs or teams to improve our skills through timed negotiations. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to be aggressive or pushy to win. In fact, it is quite the contrary: planning, listening, and at times remaining quiet will often help you reach a more successful outcome. Still, no matter you negotiate, at the end of the day, there are often repercussions than can last far beyond the agreement.

When you learn that Frank bought the same car for $5,000 less from the same dealer, you're upset and will likely change your behavior the next time you buy a car. You might even see it as a competition, and be angry at Frank for "beating you" and jealous of his ability to secure a better deal. The same is true of receiving money, whether it be a peer's higher salary or a sibling's greater inheritance.

When I debated this question of ethics with someone recently, I was told I was a communist. That was a bit harsh. So we negotiated, and agreed I would be deemed a socialist. But just so I don't feel like I got the raw end of the deal:  socialism, despite its historic misuse, still helps millions of people around the world get free healthcare and education. Of course, whether those systems are truly free or ultimately helpful will be our next debate, and hopefully we'll be able to reach an agreement.

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