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How Do You Define “Ethics?”

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

In a recent post, I discussed a book I just finished reading, The Power of Ethics by Susan Liautaud (Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 2021). While Professor Liautaud made many interesting points, her definition of “ethics” caught my attention:

“For centuries, we have shared common expectations of how we behave ethically in society, based largely on a mutual understanding of the reality in which our decisions play out. These underlying expectations have come to be guided by three pillars that support ethical decision-making: transparency (the open sharing of important information); informed consent (agreeing to an action based on an understanding of the action and its consequences); and effective listening (grasping the speaker’s meaning.)” (Id. at 95, emphasis original.)

Prof. Liautaud defines transparency as “…sharing accurate information that could have a meaningful impact on the outcome- the consequences over time and responsibility- of our decisions.” (Id. at 96.) While we need not disclose every little detail, we should disclose information that “…a reasonable person would need in order to make a good choice given the set of circumstances.” (Id.) She advocates such transparency whether we are making our own decisions or as a society.

Transparency is not only important in and of itself but impacts informed consent. She explains that informed consent “… is when we agree to a particular action based on our understanding of what the action involves and the potential consequences.” (Id.) She notes that while informed consent “… does not include a promise of perfect information or guaranteed results”, it is an indication that we trust both the information and the provider of it. (Id.)

Effective Listening means “paying close enough attention to what someone says, and how they say it so that we understand what they really mean.” (Id. at 97.)” … our listening must be more attentive to detail, nuance, and even the meaning of what isn’t actually said, or we risk missing the type and magnitude of the gaps in the information. “(Id.) (emphasis original)

This definition intrigues me because these three components- transparency, informed consent, and effective listening (aka active listening) are key to any successful mediation, or in truth to any successful negotiation. To resolve any dispute, the parties must be willing to share information that impacts the outcome. And to gain some trust from the other party, that information must be as accurate as possible. We all know that making misrepresentations during negotiations will inevitably lead to a bad result and often backfires on the party making the misrepresentation. Among other things, the other party will never trust you again and perhaps not even want to negotiate with you again.

And being transparent evolves into informed consent; understanding as much as possible all aspects of the potential transaction or proposed course of action including all of the risks and benefits and then making a decision based on such information and after weighing the risks and benefits. Without “informed consent”, the decision made is not truly self-determined or voluntary.

And the above two can only be accomplished by really listening to what is being said and as important, to what is NOT being said. I often point out that silence is golden; it says quite a lot if you “listen” long enough.

In sum, Prof. Liautaud is saying that to have a successful mediation or negotiation, it must be an ethical one. And to be ethical, it must include transparency, informed consent, and effective listening. She has taken a very complex topic- ethics- and made it quite simple!

… Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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