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Could your ethics be at risk?

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in Career Management,Centerpiece,Workplace Communication

ethics signToby would have sworn that he was immune to unethical behavior. After his brother went to jail for fraud, he swore to his father that he would never do something so heinous.

Yet, years later, Toby was involved in a massive bank fraud involving millions of dollars, and he went to prison for two years.

Was it genetic? Did he simply have a bad character?

According to Ann Tenbrunsel, a researcher at Notre Dame, who studies unethical behavior, you have to consider how the situation might have looked to Toby.

“We assume that [people] can see the ethics and are consciously choosing not to behave ethically,” Tenbrunsel says.

But Toby was likely blind to the ethics of the situation.

Other psychologists, too, have shown how our minds often fail to see what’s right in front of us. That means that Toby—or any of us—could fail to see the ethical big picture and almost unknowingly make an unethical choice.

How to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap?

Always be careful with how you frame a decision. For example, if you’re asked to do something at work, your decision to say yes or no might be influenced by your desire to appear competent, to please your boss, or to help someone out whom you like.

You’re seeing it as a business decision. You may not even realize ethics are involved.

But if you reframe the decision as an ethical decision, you might come to a different conclusion.

Tip: Before saying yes or no to a request, think about whether your actions would have a negative impact on someone else. You will see the full picture by simply thinking about “reframing” the decision.

— Adapted from “Psychology of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things,” Chana Joffe-Walt and Alix Spiegel, NPR.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Max Pinto August 31, 2012 at 10:17 am

Business decisions often concern complicated situations which are neither totally ethical nor totally unethical. Therefore, it is often difficult to do the right thing, despite what many case studies will have you believe! Moral values such as respect, honesty, fairness and responsibility are supposed to dictate our (ethical) behaviour, but are often ignored in times of stress and confusion, when one must stand by one’s principles.
Leaders have to deal with potential conflicts of interest, wrongful use of resources, mismanagement of contracts, false promises and exaggerated demands on resources. In a proposed sale, is it the seller’s duty to disclose all material facts regarding the product /service in question or is it the buyer’s responsibility to conduct due diligence? Should the seller answer each question exactly as it was asked, and ignore some pertinent information or merely address the spirit of the question?
Can ethics training prevent Bernie Madoff, Vincent Lacroix, Conrad Black, etc. from being themselves? No, but a well-designed & implemented program can
(a) help good people to do the right thing consistently
(b) make it more difficult for wrong-doers to succeed &
(c) raise people’s ethical IQS

Maxwell Pinto, Business Consultant & Author


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