Consider the following situation:

A businessman B is negotiating with a group of foreigners C who are widely (and with a reason) suspected of having an "alternative" view on business ethics. B thinks that the crooks might betray themselves by talking to each other in their language which B does not understand, so he asks his friend F (who is a native speaker of the foreign language) to listen in on the negotiations (from the next room when negotiating in person or on a second phone line when negotiating over the phone). So, C do not know that there is a third party F listening to the negotiations.

Alternatively, B records the conversation (without C's knowledge) and lets F listen to it off-line.

If this behavior unethical?

Obviously, the answer may depend on the country in question (I have the story from F who was quite proud of his role), so let us limit ourselves to USA (and the West in general).


  • 1
    Do B and C have Non-disclosure Agreements that may play a role here?
    – JB King
    Aug 27, 2013 at 18:18
  • @JBKing: probably not - this is an initial stage.
    – sds
    Aug 27, 2013 at 18:26
  • Hello sds, and welcome to the Workplace! The best questions here inspire answers that explain why and how. Right now your question only asks a yes/no question (which won't get the best answers). Would you be willing to edit your question to ask a broader question, like "What constitutes negotiating in 'good faith'?" with this specific case as an example? I think that would get you much better answers.
    – jmac
    Aug 27, 2013 at 23:55
  • Sounds perfectly OK to me. The other side would be naive to speak openly in their native language with the assumption that no one understands what they're saying.
    – Angelo
    Aug 28, 2013 at 14:24

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure why you're negotiating with people you think aren't ethical.

I'm assuming the result of this negotiation will be a contract. What value will that contract have? It's very expensive to go to court and force someone to do something against their will.

Even worse if the foreigners discuss their intention to do something and then later do it, you have to acknowledge in court that you were warned in advance.

It seems to me that you're voluntarily walking into pain for yourself.


I'm not sure the language piece is an issue. I guess they could type their communications if they really didn't want you to hear. Hacking their IM/chat would be unethical. Recording and having unknown listeners isn't any better.

Why can't you bring another person in on the deal. You don't have to disclose he/she speaks their language. It's rude to talk about someone in another language in front of them and especially in a business negotiation. They deserve to lose whatever advantage they think they are gaining.


If it is purely a business transaction, I don't see how this is unethical. C wouldn't be speaking in a native language if C was being 100% ethical. This is just gaining an entrepreneurial edge, in my opinion.
As stated by others already, in the US nothing legal can be annotated to information thus obtained.

  • 2
    Speaking in a native language is not necessarily unethical. If group C contains any employees who are required to be included in the process, but who don't speak the language, then a translation would be necessary and not unethical.
    – Adam V
    Aug 27, 2013 at 19:04
  • What is a non-no-profit business transaction?
    – MrFox
    Aug 27, 2013 at 19:07
  • 1
    @AdamV Agreed. If they let the other party know what was being discussed in the native language, it wouldn't necessarily be unethical. But then again, the other party would never know if that is true Aug 27, 2013 at 19:09
  • @MrFox I meant a business-for-profit transaction versus a non-profit business (Government NGOs.). Aug 27, 2013 at 19:14
  • Downvoters -personal grudge ? If not, care to explain why this gets your downvote Aug 28, 2013 at 12:54

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