Ethics and Negotiations - Eight principles to be a better bargainer

Ethics in the center of a group of other related terms

Having blogged previously on how to apply ethics in negotiations that commentary will not be repeated here. Rather, having presented Ethical Leadership – Principles and Practices to the Illinois CPAs this past week, upon reflection I wanted to share with you eight principles of negotiation to boost you bargaining skills in various business situations. These eight principles are not in a priority. They are character, reciprocity, publicity, trusted friend, people, advising others, legacy, and planet and greater good. Each of these is elaborated on below.




Character matters. You want to hire for character and train for competence. What is character?

Character is grounded in integrity and honesty.

Character ties into moral values. Assume everything you do is being observed by others. You are seen by your thoughts, words, and deeds. You are as good as your last worst act. That is how you typically judge others and that is typically how others judge you. By focusing on setting a good example for others your true character can be seen for who you really are. Established good character and maintaining good character are critical to boosting your negotiating power.




How would you like to be treated or how might you want someone close to you to be treated? Applying the golden rule to treat others as you would like to be treated is a great starting point. However, if you have not explored further perhaps treating other as you would like to be treated may not go far enough. For example, I am white, older, Christian man. My neighbors are younger, black, from Somalia, and Muslim. My wife likes to bake cookies and breads almost weekly and give them away to others. During the Muslim observance of Ramadan, my neighbors neither eat nor drink from sunup to sundown. This would not be the time to bring over cookies or bread. However, after Ramadan bringing over bread or cookies would make a lot of sense. What this tells me is to

treat others as they would like to be treated. That is the platinum rule.

 Consider exploring further with connecting relationships and listening actively in order to treat others as they would like to be treated.




If what you were doing was made public on social and/or print media, would you be comfortable having this shared? As a qualified mediator with the Minnesota Supreme I have conducted over 2,500 mediations and negotiations. I have asked this question as part of the mediation process. We all sign an agreement that everything that happens in mediation is confidential. However,

is it not possible that at some point this information or the agreement might be shared or leaked in some public forum? If it were, how might this be perceived?

Asking that question can give participants something to think about from a different perspective and give them pause without judging by me as the mediator. Instead, I am simply asking them the question to review from their perspective. This question can be very helpful.


Trusted friend


Would you be comfortable sharing this with family or a trusted friend?

How might they perceive your actions?

Asking this question may help you or another party reflect, and again think of what is involved in the negotiation from another perspective. Simple questions like these can give you and/or the other party pause for the better. This is particularly true when one party may become a hard bargainer or present a point of view that is punitive in nature. It may be possile this may have no impact. When that is the case consider other principles presented here.




People involves concerns for other people. Similar, to character this topic involves respecting differences, but it takes it a step further.

Here the question concerns caring about other people and doing no harm.

 Might there be harm economically, socially, or environmentally to others? What about people of color, or to those with lower incomes? Considering and caring for others, helping the greater good, and not doing harm can give a different light to the situation. This can be a good topic of conversation even what may appear to simply be a business decision related to dollars and sense only.


Advising others


If you were advising others that you truly care about, would you advise them to do what you are recommending? If not, why not? If so, why? By asking this question

you are considering your role as a coach or mentor and how this might be perceived by those who look up to you.

If you are in a more senior position at the bargaining table, what you do and the influence on others for future negotiations is something to really think about before acting. This ties into the next area and that is to your legacy.




Legacy refers to how you will be remembered. In life we typically think of ourselves in three stages. These have been summarized by others as learners, earners, and returners. We are all lifelong learners on the one hand, but on the other hand much of our life before working full time was devoted to learning. Once we enter the earning world, our focus typically is on the job, family, and wealth generation. As a returner the focus is often on giving back, sharing more with others and our legacy. These three stages have elements of overlap. However,


at every stage you are concerned with how you will be remembered.


What will others think of you and how you acted in negotiations.


Planet and greater good


With global warming, covid-19, world hunger, wars, terrorism, and other concerns,

there is a renewed emphasis on respecting life and nature.

The world only has so many resources. Conserving resources, addressing our carbon footprint, and doing business sustainably have all gained an additional emphasis in society. More and more our “me and here for today society” is being grounded in the long term greater good. An emphasis is being made to benefit society and future generations to make the world a better place. You no longer simply have clients. Rather, you are looking at how you enrich the lives of others with what you do and how this impacts the planet and the greater good. This is a major shift in ethics in negotiations.

Hopefully, a reminder of these eight principles will give you further thought and help you in a future negotiation.

To read more on this topic looking at five of principles mentioned here check out this article from the Harvard Program on Negotiation. This article inspired me to do additional research for this blog with you

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]