The Negotiator Magazine
Back to Index Page:
Reader’s Review
John Baker

What’s Fair: Ethics for Negotiators
By Carrie Menkel-Meadow (Editor) and Michael Wheeler (Editor)
592pp. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass, 2004.
Hardcover Edition: (US) $55.00

What’s Fair is an extraordinary collection of writings on the subject of ethics in negotiations by some of the leading figures in the field and edited by Carrie Menkel-Meadow and Michael Wheeler. You will find works by Roger Fisher, Deborah M. Kolb, Judith Williams, Howard Raiffa, G. Richard Shell and a host of other writers who explore critical and wide-ranging aspects of one of negotiation’s most fundamental and controversial topics.

Carrie Menkel-Meadow is professor of law at the Georgetown Law Center in Washington D.C., chair of the Georgetown Center for Public Resources Commission on Ethics and Standards in ADR, and associate editor of Negotiation Journal. Recognized as an expert in alternative dispute resolution as well as legal ethics, Professor Menkel-Meadow is the author of Mediation: Theory, Policy & Practice (2001) and over sixty articles.

Michael Wheeler is Class of 1952 Management Professor at the Harvard Business School, Co-Director of the Dispute Resolution Program and editor of Negotiation Journal. Professor Wheeler is co-author of eight books and numerous articles in the field of negotiations.

The editors have brought together some of the best of contemporary American thought on negotiation ethics in this collection of the works of 37 outstanding writers. In addition, the editors have devised a careful and helpful structure, enhanced with introductory commentaries to each of the book’s major sections that carries the reader easily through the book.

The collection begins with an overview of the key issues and divergent positions that dominate the discussion of this complex and important topic. Then, it moves quickly to explorations of each of five major issues that comprise much of the core of the subject of negotiation ethics. These issues are truth telling; tactics and strategies; duties and responsibilities to others in the negotiation; relationships with agents and principals and lastly, social influences on the negotiators and their outcomes.

Why do we need a book of over five hundred pages on ethics? Why should negotiators care at all some might argue?

The skeptic might contend that in “a dog eat dog world” the only thing that counts is what works and that laws set the rules. This caveat emptor view of negotiations relegates ethical concerns to distractions or to the province of the foolish.

Fortunately, this attitude is far rarer than inexperienced negotiators sometimes believe to be the case. It is simply that tormented memories of this type of negotiator seem to give its practitioners a more prominent place in the negotiating arena than their real numbers would ever reveal. Additionally, even these negotiators draw upon ethical guidelines for their behavior that bind them to more than required legal disclosures and candor when dealing with family and friends. They are simply practitioners of situational or positional ethics.

In general, a working definition of right and wrong behavior is one of the basic underlying currencies of negotiations. Ethical questions and positions inevitably lead each negotiator into a world of nuances requiring choices between decision points that mark fine shading calibrated between the polar extremes of behavior.

” Anything goes,” sets one pole star and “I never lie,” is its opposite. Somehow, however, life takes us on a course that leads almost inevitably into the realms of far more complex choices. For example, “I never lie” is often couched in unstated and sometimes unrecognized personal caveats that turn it from a polar certainty to other meanings. It is in the exceptions that the ethical challenges rest.

“I never lie, but …,” ah, there is the ethical issue. “But … I do not reveal all, tell only what I am asked, hide my bottom line, can not speak to the topic because I choose not to know, bluff, of course, fail to mention alternatives … et al.” The nuances are seemingly endless.

This is a book that probes those shades, often unexplored in our thoughts, and challenges its reader to come face-to-face with questions about what is fair on the wide range of negotiating behaviors, both on an organizational and a personal level. Is the structure of the negotiations fair? Are the rules and agendas fairly designed and understood? Are all the interested parties represented and full partners in the process? What are the effects on others beyond the table?

It is a superb book that every negotiator should read as a guide to his or her own ethical standards as well as those of their counterparts. There is, of course, far more in this book than this review can touch upon, including a rich bibliography of related works on each of the areas of negotiating ethics.

The best in its field and a must-read for all negotiators.

Highly recommended.

John Baker, Ph.D.

As a service to our readers, you may order this month’s Review’s Review selection by clicking on the appropriate icon below:

What’s Fair: Ethics for Negotiators [Amazon.com]

What’s Fair: Ethics for Negotiators [Amazon.co.uk]

Back to Index Page:
Copyright © 2004, The Negotiator Magazine