I recently came across a situation where a client (non-work related) revealed that he/she was recently in a poor emotional state regarding his/her significant other. Now this information was unexpected, nor solicited, the client just mentioned this in passing as we were discussing the finer points of the product that was being sold/bought and the client mentioned this as the reason for the sale/purchase.

In my mind, my intent (as with all transactions) was to obtain/offer a detailed description of the product, conduct market research for like-items, give an estimate for wear and tear, and offer/ask a competitive market price.

Now given this unrealized information, an ethical dilemma surfaced.

Should one leverage personal information to get a better deal in general?

On one hand, money is money, the economics of the situation dictate that the goal of the buyer is to obtain goods/services at the lowest price he/she is willing to bear at the market's availability, the seller is to offer goods/services at the highest price he or she believe the market will be willing to buy.

On the other, a person's personal relationship has no place when discussing what is through and through, the buying and selling of an item: car, boat, house, sneakers...etc.

Now given the non-work situation, the lines were more blurred between what one should do. But at the workplace? This leads me to my next question.

Should one leverage personal information to get a better deal in a business setting?

Note: My plan is to stick to the original plan and ask/bid a competitive market price. The closest I got to a similar question on the Workplace was Is it ethical for an Employer to use personal (financial) information in negotiating salary?. But given the employer-employee relationship, I don't think it will apply in this situation.

  • What kind of contract is this? Is it a "buy and done" deal, or will there be a long term relationship attached to the deal? You don't want to sour the relations from day one if you need to work with this person a lot. – Erik Oct 20 '17 at 7:28
  • One transaction. At the same time, (playing devil's advocate) I don't see how one would not be able to utilize the information and still maintain a 'positive' relationship in the long term. – Bluebird Oct 20 '17 at 7:33
  • This depends on the specifics of your situation and your business. For example, suppose your business is to sell firearms, and you take advantage of her personal situation to sell her more. That is likely to be very different ethical situation from selling someone a house, boat, etc. based on personal information you know. Also, for ethics you probably first need to consider how the personal information was gathered (did you violate implicit privacy, etc.). – Brandin Oct 20 '17 at 12:13
  • @JoeStrazzere Wow, didn’t think it would be perceived like that. My answer is a firm “NO.” That’s clearly wrong. My question pertains to use states of emotion, happiness, sadness, remorse, concern, etc. essentially the interpersonal relations between two parties as a means of obtaining a more favorable outcome. – Bluebird Oct 21 '17 at 23:44
  • For example: a car. “Hey I understand you had a lot of memories with him/her, sometimes you would have to make a clean cut and move on. Something I did was to take of all the things that reminded me of him/her and donating or selling it. This way I didn’t have anything that triggered my memories of him/her”. Then after conversation, discuss the car with the notion that now that the person has been primed to sell. An example might be how people are asked to donate towards a charity after seeing/hearing videos/images/stories that evokes emotion and causes sympathy. – Bluebird Oct 22 '17 at 0:19

I'd say this depends on a bit on personal philosophy as well, but if we take your dictation of the situation at face value:

Make a fair assessment of all the costs and benefits for you that are involved in the transaction, and then pick the best option.

If the person is in a rough spot, and you're ripping them off, that's not really your problem. But if you're the type of person who will lose sleep that night because you ripped off someone who was in a rough spot, that is your problem. And in that situation you have to add "feeling bad and losing sleep over this" to the list of costs for buying the item cheaper. On the other hand, if buying the item from someone in a rough spot at full price makes you feel better about yourself, that's something you can add to your benefits list.

And then you have to weigh the situation with these costs/benefits in mind and see what is best. So if you won't feel bad about giving someone a worse deal because you have some personal details about them, use it. If you would feel bad, weigh how bad you'd feel with how much you'd gain in money. Feeling bad all day because you negotiated a 10% discount on a second hand sweater this way, probably not worth it. Feeling bad all day because you negotiated a 10% discount on your new house this way, probably worth it.

Likewise if you'd feel better. If you're buying an $8 second hand sweater and you give the seller $10 because they look to be a in bad situation, and that makes you feel good about yourself the entire day, that's a really good deal. It's hard to come up with something else that makes you feel good at all day and only costs $2. (And doesn't make you fat)

So should one leverage personal information when making a deal? Yeah. But when you do, don't just make it about the final price; factor in the other things you're gaining or losing in return for applying the leverage as well.

(Note that when looking at it this way, it is irrelevant whether the person is actually in a bad spot or just swindling you to get more money; you feel better either way.)

  • @Kilisi fair enough. I've used a less loaded term now. – Erik Oct 20 '17 at 8:03
  • Swinding is less ambiguous, but more negative. "just trying" would be less loaded and less negative. – jmoreno Oct 22 '17 at 0:31

Business is business, you use any and all information to get a better deal so long as you're not breaching your ethical standards.

In this case the information is suspect. It was unsolicited and not verified yet. There could easily be a reason behind that information 'accidently' slipping out.

  • If so, how would it every play in the other party's advantage to disclose information such as this? – Bluebird Oct 20 '17 at 7:35
  • 2
    No way of knowing that, playing the sympathy card perhaps? Gauging your reaction? Seeing if you're the sort of person likely to empathise with hard luck stories... a myriad of possibilities. When negotiating it's best to take note of everything, but verify what you can before using it as a bargaining chip or anything else. I've seen sales people practicing hard luck stories in the mirror. – Kilisi Oct 20 '17 at 7:37

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