A friend of mine has been nominated for a rather prestigious award in his field and it seems that this year all contenders decided it would be a good idea to send "gifts" to the judges. The stakes are higher this year since the award has a research grand attached to it.

His wife had made extensive research on each judge and put together a list of personalized gifts (e.g. a watch for a judge that wrote on twitter that he lost his).

I am rather annoyed by this because he's being influenced heavily by his wife. I've known this guy for 20+ years. He is not the type that would do such a thing but he would really like this award since he did a really good job. He does indeed deserve it compared to his opponents. I know he's leaning towards giving a gift (I'd say 60% chance he does), so he hasn't made up his mind yet. But for him, it's the opportunity of a lifetime, so I think he's leaning towards bribing.

I would like to make an argument to my friend about not bribing the judges.

How could I actively approach him and make my case without hurting the friendship?

To add a bit more info. This is a friend that I always admired for his ethics. He's been influenced towards a possibly damaging decision and I would prefer to offer my opinion on the matter.

I am a stickler when it comes to my ethics, especially in a situations such as this. And I know that my friend is as well since we went to college together and known each other for ever. But as with a lot of people that are successful in their career, breaching the friendship wall into the career part can be tricky.

  • Did your friend mention that he is leaning toward giving a "gift," is planning on giving a "gift," or did he strictly mention his wife's "help" with no indication either way?
    – dth02134
    Oct 30, 2017 at 16:08
  • @dth02134 So far he's leaning towards it. I would have to say he's 60% towards giving a gift since it's the opportunity of a lifetime.
    – Xander
    Oct 30, 2017 at 16:09
  • Do you want to 'actively' approach him (start the subject yourself) or just bring this up when it's mentioned again?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 30, 2017 at 16:23
  • 3
    Lack of bribery makes a much better impression than bribery for the judges who have high moral standards, but it's impossible for us to know whether this applies.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 30, 2017 at 16:46
  • 2
    What kind of culture or industry are you in? There are places where this could be seen as fairly normal; and others where it would be highly illegal for everyone involved.
    – JMac
    Oct 30, 2017 at 17:33

5 Answers 5


This was something I observed when someone I know (not my friend) took this dubious route last year, quoted here from my own comment under @StephenG's earlier answer to this question:

A person I know was very sure he deserves selection in a particular employment; he bribed somebody to get the job [just to 'be sure of it' and defeat variables] and went to the interview with an overconfident vibe; he didn't get the job and lost his money, and now feels very bitter whenever he sees the person who actually got selected.

Do you want that to happen to your friend?

If so, say nothing. [Option A]

Do you just want your friend to be aware of the situation?

If so, make a mild and neutral statement as a 'reminder only', as suggested by @Snow's earlier answer here. [Option B]

However, @akaioi is very right to state in his earlier answer that

When it comes out, award and grant will probably be revoked, publically and embarrassingly.

May I add that the University Ethics Committee would make a black mark against your friend that would seriously hurt his professional future: and people tend to socially ostracize someone found caught doing unethical things, even if such behavior is condoned in principle and covertly practiced by the community.

So do you want to save your long-time very close friend from moral error and the real prospect of serious vulgar embarrassment?

If so, take it up with him as a full and earnest argument against employing unethical means to win the award [Option C] but be aware he will still take the final decision and you should be ready to lose his friendship in the process, because many people I know would find it impossible to remain friends with someone who rightly disapproves of their moral defects.

But are you particular to retain his friendship at all costs?

If so, take no risk and say nothing. [Option D]

What would I do?

If any person is a close friend or family member and matters a lot to me, I will tell them in full detail how and why bribing someone to get something is always a bad idea, and I will risk losing the friendship in the process. [Option C] He will still make the final decision but just standing by, and not speaking my mind as he goes about making an objectively very bad decision, would make me a bad friend IMHO.


Just let him make the decision for himself.

You could drop this as

You know this could be seen as you bribing him, don't you?

Phrasing it this way doesn't mean that you're actually calling him out for making a bribe, just pointing out that it can be seen that way by others.

At least then, he can make this moral decision for himself and live with the consequences.


This is a friend of yours for many years. I don't see any reason not to simply say to him that you "think it's a bad idea to send gifts to the judges".

I am somewhat surprised, however, that a prize committee can be getting "gifts" from the candidates in an academic context. I'm not naive enough to think this never happens, but it certainly ought to be prohibited by the contest rules. Perhaps the angle to use with your friend is that this might come back to haunt him if people found out he gave gifts to the judges.

If he wins and it comes out he gave gifts to a judge or judges then it will look like a bribe and could be damaging to your friend's career.

If he looses he can't cry foul if he's also been giving "gifts".

And if your friend is the type, he might feel guilty about getting the prize if he won by gift giving - it won't feel like he won on merit.

He does indeed deserve it compared to his opponents.

I caution you on this thinking. It may be your opinion (and his) that this is the case, but it need not be the honest opinion of others. People place different values on different work. Neither you nor your friend should feel he's "entitled" to win. This way lays bitterness and anger.


First ... assume friend's name is Chet.

"Chet, this notion of gifts to judges ... I have a bad feeling about this."

Then wait. Likely he'll ask you why. Then you can drop some knowledge on him.

  • When it comes out, award and grant will probably be revoked, publically and embarrassingly.

  • If he forbears, he'll sleep better at night.

  • If he forbears and wins, he'll know it's because his work was superior, not his gifts.

If you get any "everyone else is doing it" blowback, point back to items 1, 2, 3 above. Your friend could really use a copy of Marcus Aurelius...


I am a stickler when it comes to my ethics, especially in a situations such as this. And I know that my friend is as well since we went to college together and known each other for ever.

Either your friend is not a stickler when it comes to his ethics (in which case he would not be doing this), or his ethics are a bit different than you understand (in which case, he might see this as ok), or, finally, he is a stickler when it comes to his ethics, and has overriden them to do this. If it's either of the first two, you need do nothing for him. (I say this because if he does not agree with you, it is your ethics which are moving you to act, i.e. taking care of your own discomfort.)

But if he truly shares your moral perspective, a quiet, private conversation is in order. As you are great friends, the career aspect should not stand in the way.

You can point out not only the ways in which this is a breech of ethical standards, which is significant, but there is more to this at stake. There is integrity.

If your friend gifts the judges, how will he know he received the award because he truly deserved it? His victory might eventually become a hollow one if he believes the reason he clinched it was because of an appeal to the vanity or greed of the judges. It might even be a cause for guilt later (maybe the best recipient was robbed because of his actions.)

Integrity is a very important character trait to preserve if one has it to begin with. You would be doing your friend a service by meeting with him, say, over a quiet lunch, and bring up all your observations and thoughts in a non-accusatory manner, and making it clear that you're leaving the choice up to him.

Making it clear that it's his choice and that your friendship won't suffer makes this just a sharing of opinions/ideals, which goes over much better than an attempt to control his behavior.

  • 2
    Thanks for articulating the crucial concept of integrity which somehow slipped my mind (possibly because I somehow misread this Q as involving academics, who are not exactly famous for integrity in this town, in my experience) -- may I suggest thst OP's friend would also lose all present and future credibility if such unethical activities became a public scandal @anongoodnurse. Oct 31, 2017 at 16:08

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