In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Jan. 3, 2005 / 3 Teves, 5766

When is it a bluff?

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir

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Bargaining ethics

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q. Is it permissible to bluff in negotiations?

A. I have been asked this question many times, and I have always had difficulty formulating a convincing response. However, I am going to present here a fascinating analysis of the question by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine of Yeshiva University. His new book Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law includes an extensive section on the important yet neglected topic of negotiation ethics. In my opinion, this chapter is an important contribution not only to Jewish ethics but also to the entire business ethics literature.

The context of his discussion, and one of the most common bargaining situations, is labor-management negotiations, so we will present his insights in this context.

In this chapter, Rabbi Levine makes some very interesting and useful distinctions among various kinds of bluffs or untruths.

Rabbi Levine points out that a person can lie in negotiations for a variety of reasons. Commonly, one side may face an acceptable offer (one that would be accepted if it were truly a take-it-or-leave-it situation) and try to portray it as unacceptable (threatening a strike when in fact the negotiator knows the rank and file would actually accept the offer). But sometimes one may accurately present an offer as unacceptable but mislead as to the reason. In particular, claiming that "we would like to meet your demand but we are unable to" is less alienating than stating "your offer is unacceptable to us", even if the latter statement is true.

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Rabbi Levine views such a claim as a kind of white lie. Jewish law permits occasional white lies to sustain good-will and avoid embarrassment; for example, telling a visitor that "Joan is sleeping" instead of saying "Joan has an important phone call". The latter answer could insult the visitor by making him think that he is being turned away for an inadequate reason (even though the phone call truly is very important), and saves Joan from unnecessary intrusion into her privacy. ("What could Joan be talking about that's so important?!")

Here also the object is to sustain good-will by making a more conciliatory explanation for rejecting a demand. But even a "white lie" is an affront to truthfulness and so is subject to many restrictions: there must be no other way of keeping good will; it must not be a lie which will ultimately be revealed and cause even more ill-will; and it must not be made in a way which habituates a person to untruth.

Rabbi Levine's example is a university negotiator who doesn't want to be blunt and say "I'm sorry, you guys are just not worth that much to us". He shouldn't say "There is no money in the current budget" if this is not true, even if the budget is currently under wraps, since ultimately the budget will be publicized. But stating "we can't raise tuition enough" to meet the demand may be acceptable, if the decision on tuition is known only to a handful of administrators who will not reveal the decision they made.

What about an actual threat to strike? If the administration's offer is truly unacceptable, then of course there is nothing wrong with threatening a strike. What about an offer which, if push came to shove, the faculty would accept? Can the negotiator threaten a strike in order to intimidate the administration into making a better offer?

Here Rabbi Levine distinguishes between two kinds of false threats: credible threats and transparent threats. If the context of the negotiations is such that the other side will actually believe the threat, then he writes that such a threat is a bad faith negotiating ploy. But if the context is such that the other side perceives that the threat is merely a kind of exaggeration for effect, then there is no prohibition.

The basis in Jewish law for this understanding is in the laws of vows. If a person swears that he will not accept less than a certain amount for his merchandise, then of course the oath is binding. But some people, unfortunately careless with their oaths, use the term "I swear I won't" as a convenient translation of "I would be reluctant to", and everyone is aware of this.

Sometimes mention of a strike is made to signal to the other side that he is getting into a sensitive area without actually meaning to put an end to negotiations; if the other side understands that this is a "caution threat" this is ethical. But according to Rabbi Levine's analysis, an outright false threat is a bad-faith ploy.

Rabbi Levine's chapter includes many other fascinating ethical distinctions, including discussions of the ethics diversionary statements, ultimatums, exaggeration, and false "decoy" demands. He even discusses hostage negotiations. I have never encountered such a comprehensive and convincing treatment of the ethics of negotiations in any work, Jewish or general.

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You've enjoyed his columns on JWR for years. Now the Jewish Ethicist has culled his most intriguing — and controversial — offerings in book form.
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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.


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© 2005, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics