Things are not just black and white. There are various shades of grey in between. This is something reasonably sensible people have long since accepted. Recently I’ve witnessed a captivating debate about manoeuvring in the grey area and setting limits between the good and the bad, between the acceptable and the no-go area, all that in the name of a greater cause of course. No matter how hard one would like to defer the decision, eventually the line has to be drawn under a certain shade of grey.
The discussion was in the context of a possible investment in a local private company in country X, which is known, though not proven, to be providing ‘protection payments’ to the president’s entourage. Of course the company is not over the moon about parting with considerable sums of money, but has no other choice if it wants to do businesses. The money is extorted. Such payments represent a well known and widely spread practice, and, contrary to the general believe about western institutions, it is not naïve and oblivious of the custom.
On one hand the institution cannot engage with companies associated with corruption. On the other hand the institution has a mandate to fulfil in the country X, and the mandate includes bringing transparency and international best practices to the country’s business environment.
Knowing that these sorts of payments are ubiquitous in the country X, you have two options. Either you stick to your principles and wrap up your activities in the country X accepting your defeat and failure to deliver you mandate, or you appeal to your finest negotiating and flexibility skills and start manoeuvring… All you need to do is to find an acceptable dressing up for the payments, which does not eradicate completely the basic idea of your principles. Simples! Not!
While the temptation to accuse the manoeuvre-er of double standards is enormous, the truth is if you do not bend, you go away with nothing. Finding the guts to step into the grey zone means getting the other side out of the no-go area, which is part of the key objective.
I am still not convinced how efficient can these sorts of negotiations be. If neither of the parties is willing to abort its beliefs and practices, and is only faking some openness – can durable results be achieved?