As humans we have a moral duty to respect others – to pay due regard to their feelings, wishes and rights. The act of negotiation does not release us from this duty but can put significant obstacles in our path. It is important first and foremost not to confuse a refusal to agree with a lack of respect. And then there are some interesting ethical dilemmas to face. For example, how do we maintain respect in the face of the following common challenges?
- Reciprocity – as the other party hasn’t treated me with respect, I’m not obliged to treat them with respect.
- Prior harm – given the harm the other side has done to me, I am not obliged to treat them with respect.
- Custom – that’s just how the game of negotiation is played. It’s a no-hold-barred game where each side tries to get the best deal it can.
- Self-protection – If I try to treat them with respect, I’ll get ‘eaten alive’, for they won’t be trying to respect me and thus I will be disadvantaged.
All these are worthy challenges and need to be examined each time they are encountered. However, there is compelling evidence to support the advice that an approach to negotiation that tries its hardest to maintain respect for the other party delivers the best results. It is always better to resist ‘descending to their level’, or what can be called the ‘descent into the abyss’.
For an excellent and detailed exploration of the matter, I recommend Jonathan Cohen’s “When People are the Means: Negotiating with Respect”, downloadable at: https://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1049&context=facultypub