In his essay, Is Business Bluffing Ethical? Albert Carr contends that business, like poker, warrants a certain amount of bluffing. He holds that business is a game, and so long as all those playing are doing so with an understanding of the rules of the game, personal ethics do not necessarily apply in the same way they would in a businessperson’s personal life (Carr 1968). To consider his argument, one must first come to working definitions of . Carr sees bluffing as distinguishable from lying in two important ways. First, it is done in such a way or situation that the whole truth is not expected (Carr 1968).
For example, if one asks a car salesperson, What is the best price you can offer on this car? most would not expect the price he or she quotes to be the real best price. Instead, the savvy car buyer takes it as a starting point for negotiation (Allhoff 2003). Second, bluffing usually involves withholding part of the truth about a matter, rather than stating falsehoods (Carr 1968). Bluffing can therefore be consider a game strategy employed by one or more persons who withhold, misrepresent, exaggerate, or in some way allow others to misinterpret the truth to enhance the strength of their position during negotiations (Car 1968, Allhoff 2003).
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Business ethics is a bit more difficult to define. Chryssides and Kaler (1993) believe it is a by-product of the actions taken in a variety of ethical situations. While in part a system of normative behaviours agreed upon by the majority of those involved in business, business ethics may also be thought of as the spoken and unspoken guidelines of the business community that exist to assist those in the business world in resolving questions of conduct (Chryssides and Kaler 1993).
In this paper, we will examine the ethics of bluffing and game strategy behaviour through an analysis of Carr’s essay. Main points of this comparison will be related to well-known cases related to business ethics, with an integration of James Shad’s statement regarding ethics in the business community and Freidman’s theories regarding business and ethics. Carr presents several main assertions that bluffing in the business arena should be viewed in a similar manner to bluffing in poker. First, it is an expected activity in the game of business.
Carr considers business a game, and one in which bluffing is what any good game player does. He contends that since most seasoned business people will expect bluffing, and even use it as a strategy themselves, anyone who doesn’t bluff is likely to lose (Carr 1968). However, Carr does not consider the dangers of people getting caught up in the game idea. If business is a game rather than the real world, then players can act in a way removed from the real-world results of their decisions.
Wolfe (1990) contends that business students trained to view business from a game model viewed human beings as units or numerical symbols of some sort. Their moral sensitivities were attuned to winning (14). Such an attitude leads to unethical decisions, not those in the best interest of the business or community. Carr also argues that since bluffing is expected, everyone (at least all experienced business people) is playing by the same rules. This supports bluffing if the same rules argument is valid.
However, Carr does not present a clear picture of how the players in the business game acquire these spoken and unspoken rules of business (Carr 1968). In some passages, Carr seems to think that convention determines the rules, whereas in others he seems to think that the law delineates boundaries and all acts within those boundaries are permissible (Allhoff 2003, 284). Regardless of how rules are determined, there must be some endorsement of the rules by the participants. For example, if a shop owner tells a child to take a piece of candy and the child does, it is considered ethically correct.
However, if the child the decided to take candy whenever he felt like it, without having the shop owner’s permission, it would be shoplifting. All parties must clearly understand the rules of the engagement (Wolfe 1990). This does not always occur in the business environment. An example of this would be some current labour negotiations. More and more non-professionals are becoming involved, which dilutes any shared understandings there may have been in the past (Provis 2000, 155). In other words, not everyone in the negotiations has the same understandings of the rules of the game.
Because of this, an appearance of deceptive bluffing can often be explained as an exchange of genuine concessions while it still may be considered ethical to exploit the novice collective bargainers (Provis 2000, 145). Carr’s assertion that everyone does or should understand the role of bluffing cannot be applied evenly throughout such a large and diverse business community as exists in our society. Carr contends business is a game played to win. However, his analogy is weak at this point because business differs from other types of games.
In most athletic games, for example, there is a winner and a loser, and participants know at the outset that one party will win and the others lose. Business, however, in its best practise, should be a win-win situation. There is no prior agreement, nor reason to assert that only one group should win in negotiations between management and labour (Koehn 1997). Instead it is hoped both will be pleased by the final result. More importantly, everyone knows the rules and agrees to them before beginning the game, and these rules stay fixed throughout play (Koehn 1997). This differs from Carr’s description of rules and games in respect to bluffing.