Sharks, Saints, and Samurai: The Power of Ethics in Negotiations
In this article, I explore the notion that ethics, far from being a check or drag on negotiator power, can actually help to enhance it. As the example of Nelson Mandela negotiating with the South African government showed, ethics (or at least the perception of being ethical) can be a major source of power, diminishing or even neutralizing many other weaknesses. I explore some of the principal ethical dilemmas facing negotiators and illustrate the sometimes surprising ways that “right” ethical choices can actually increase negotiator power. This occurs not only in the more superficial case of instrumental or even prudential ethics, (the province of “saints” and “sharks”), where “right” behavior is employed to gain short-term advantage or to improve long-term negotiator reputation, but even more so in the case of intrinsic “principled” negotiation, where the “right” thing is done for its own sake. As in the case of the medieval Japanese samurai, ethics can be a major source of power. This thesis is then illustrated anecdotally in three practical examples, leading to a proposal for how to deepen and apply this lesson to negotiation analysis and practice.