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4 Ethical Negotiation Tactics

Photo by Christina wocintechchat on Unsplash

Negotiations have a reputation for being cut-throat. After all, to get what you want, you have to be merciless, right? Not necessarily. In fact, if you use ethics in negotiations, you’re more likely to be viewed as a skilled negotiator who takes the other person’s perspective into account and wins with their morality still intact. Often, the short-term gains of unethical negotiation do not outweigh the long-term gains of behaving in an ethical manner, but you have to be intentional when you negotiate to make sure you stay on the ethical side. Here are four tactics to help.

Know Your Bottom Line

Always enter any negotiation already knowing both your best alternative outcome in case you have to compromise and your walk away price, which is the point when you decide negotiations are over because if you compromise any further, you’re going to be worse off than when you started. These are keys to keeping your integrity intact when you negotiate. 

For example, if you’re negotiating on behalf of other stakeholders, it would be unethical for you to accept an offer that would be detrimental to their interests. You can’t make those types of decisions without their input. Your walk-away price has to be set with those stakeholders in mind and usually with their permission. If you go beyond that price, you’re now negotiating in bad faith.

Even if you think you’ve negotiated the best possible outcome for your stakeholders, if it’s below the walk-away price, you can’t accept it on their behalf. You must end negotiations at that point and return to your stakeholders with the offer. You might be able to have a lower walk-away price at future negotiations, but for now, it’s not possible and your reputation depends on keeping your word.

Be Truthful

The higher the stakes are in a negotiation, the more tempting it is to lie. For example, if you’re negotiating a raise or a promotion, the stakes are probably extremely high for you. You might be tempted to say that you have higher offers from other companies to bolster your position. But, if you don’t really have those offers, you’re not being truthful, even if the tactic works. And, if the other side finds out you didn’t have other offers, your reputation for ethical negotiation takes a hit.

Moreover, what happens if your opponent calls your bluff? You don’t get the raise or the promotion and you don’t have offers from other companies to fall back on. You either have to quit and lie about getting another job or you have to admit you didn’t have the offers in the first place. Either way, you’re in a worse position than you were at the beginning and your integrity is no longer secure.

Honour Your Commitments

In most successful negotiations, compromises usually come with promises. You will get what you want (or at least part of what you want) if you promise something in return. Perhaps you’ll get that promotion you ask for if you train the person who will take your old job. You might start out enthusiastic about training that person, but as time goes on, you decide to focus more on your new position. You’ve just broken the promise that you made to get what you wanted.

Breaking your promises is one of the fastest ways to get a negative reputation for negotiations. In future situations, your opponent is not going to trust that you’ll do what you say and will be more reluctant to compromise. You may have gotten that one promotion, but by not honouring your commitment to training the new employee, you’re probably not going to get anything else for quite a while.

Respect Relationships

Unless you don’t plan on ever seeing the other person again after a negotiation ends, you’re still going to have to have a relationship with them, whether it’s personal or business. For this reason, among others, it’s important to treat the other person with respect and keep in mind that you can’t burn the relationship to the ground if you want to be on good terms with that person in the future. In fact, if the relationship is more important to you than the outcome of the negotiation, then it may not be worth negotiating at all.

If you can’t separate the relationship from the negotiation and you’re not sure the relationship will survive the negotiation, ask someone to step in for you and negotiate as a third party. This will distance your emotions from the process and make sure the relationship is still in place after the session is over. Seeking counsel and assistance in negotiations is a sign of an ethical negotiator because it indicates that you aren’t willing to win at all costs.


The process of negotiation can be very stressful, especially if you’re trying to do it the right way. But, as long as you have a plan going in, know when to walk away, and be willing to ask for help, you’re sure to be successful in keeping your reputation as an ethical negotiator intact.

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