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Do your ethics depend on who you are doing business with?

A study co-authored by Dr David Cramer, management professor at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, asked 800 participants from the US and China to negotiate a sale under pressure and avoid company loss. Negotiators from the US were found to be more likely to use ‘questionable’ business ethics in their negotiating tactics with someone in China than when they negotiated the same sale with someone in the US. People from China were less likely to use questionable tactics when they thought they were negotiating with someone in the US but more likely to use them on fellow nationals.

Negotiators from the US were more likely to use questionable business ethics in negotiations with someone in China than when they negotiated the same sale with someone in the US.

If this study shows that the other party’s nationality can affect the ethics of negotiating tactics, does it have broader implications for our ever-more global and increasingly multi-national and multi-cultural workplaces? What does it tell us about the different ethical standards people bring to work, or the different ways we respond to co-workers when it comes to our own ethical behaviour?

Dr Jawed Mohammed is a lecturer and internationally published author on cross-cultural business issues at Swinburne Business School. He says the ethical framework that dominates in Australian workplaces and society follows a humanist tradition, but that it largely ignores the contribution of different cultural and religious backgrounds.

“Ethics are unwritten rules. They are subconsciously the notion of right or wrong, or good and bad,” he says. And if you are asking people to voluntarily follow a set of unwritten rules or behaviours, which ethics is, you must take all their backgrounds and cultural influences into account.

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