Negotiating in Good Faith: The Key to Integrity

Oftentimes, there is a sense that we have reached an impasse with the group or the person with whom we are negotiating. This may have to do with seeking a new job, with negotiating terms of employment, or with a discussion about salary. In any of these cases the most important aspect is to maintain good faith no matter what side of the table we occupy.

Discussing a job, and its salary and benefits, is a common process and often involves a series of meetings between the prospective employer and the candidate. There are several phases to the process, and it begins with a candidate responding to a notice of a job opening or being approached by a head-hunting firm. It continues through the interview process that may involve members of the board of directors and members of the professional staff interviewing the candidate.

A series of decisions will be made that focus on the person’s professional knowledge, experience and skills, as well as the personal qualities of the applicant. Often these qualities include their appearance, their manner of speaking, and their connection with other people, as well as a number of intangible characteristics reflected during the interviews held during the process of filling and open position in an organization. Throughout, it is important to maintain “good faith” between the organization and the candidate.

In the interviewing process good faith means the organization has clearly stated what it is seeking in the new employee and it has defined the position both for those in the organization and for those applying for the position. The organization should not accept applicants who do not meet the basic criteria for the job. It also means that applicants should not be sought for a position where the job was given (or promised) to another person prior to beginning the search.

Many years ago when I was the Director of the Israel Office of the Council of Jewish Federations, I was asked to place an advertisement in the newspaper seeking a candidate to represent a local Jewish Federation in Israel. The notice was placed and over 100 people applied for the position. I was told to send all responses to the Federation in the United States and not to respond to any of the inquiries. (It turned out that the position had already been filled by someone prior to the notice being placed). The notice was placed for the sake of appearances and in order that no one should question the position being filled without a search process. This clearly demonstrates a lack of good faith on the part of the federation where they went through the motions of conducting a search for a candidate when someone had already been offered the position and had accepted. This does not reflect well on the organization; people remember these things and talk to others.

The same principle applies to the candidate seeking a position. A person should not pursue a job that is of little or no interest. There are times when a person will want to have some bargaining power with a present employer to use as leverage for a promotion or higher salary. The employee who looks for a job simply to use as leverage and enters into serious negotiations with a potential employer when there is no intention of leaving the present position, demonstrates a lack of “good faith”. Doing this is not only a waste of the employee’s time but is also frustrating to the organization that is looking to hire someone really interested. It does not reflect well on the employee and does not enhance his or her reputation in the field.

Of course there are times when a person decides to leave the place of employment and this becomes a “wake up call” for the present employer. When the organization realizes the implications of the impending loss of a valued employee, they may place a new offer on the table and the person may ultimately decide not to leave the original job. However, if a process has begun with a potential employer, the decision to remain with the present job should be communicated as soon as possible to all concerned so there is no misunderstanding about the person’s intentions.

In these situations both sides have to maintain a clear sense of their goals and what they hope to achieve from the negotiating process. The employee has a right to set the bottom line for the level of remuneration and benefits they choose to accept, and the employer has the right to determine the upper limits for the compensation and benefits that can be provided to the employee. In the process of negotiating it is essential that each side maintain a clear understanding of the meaning of “good faith” and they each accept the obligation to deal with each other in the most honest and ethical way. When this is practiced each side will not only honor the other but will create an atmosphere that will provide for a productive and mutually beneficial relationship between employer and employee in the non-profit organization.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.