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The inner circle: Ethical decision making

From: Building Trust

Video: The inner circle: Ethical decision making

Can you trust those around you? What will those around you, for that matter what will you do? Ethical dilemmas come in two distinct forms. The other type of ethical dilemma is when right and wrong are not clear.

The inner circle: Ethical decision making

Can you trust those around you? Can you trust them to make good decisions? What will those around you, for that matter what will you do? What would I do when faced with sticky situations that test our ethical core? Ethical dilemmas come in two distinct forms. The situations where there is a clear cut right and wrong. But taking the higher ground costs us something, maybe that's time or energy or money. But doing the right thing costs us. The other type of ethical dilemma is when right and wrong are not clear.

When the waters are murky and we are still forced to make a decision, we are experiencing the second type of dilemma. Here are some examples of right and wrong actually being pretty clear, but it's hard to do the right thing. She knows it's wrong to use company equipment for personal printing, but oh, it's such a hassle to run to the copy shop. He knows it's wrong to share confidential information, but it's so easy to let it slip out sometimes. She knows she should hand the change back when the clerk gives her more than she has coming, but, oh, it's so tempting to just take the money and go.

In these situations our trustworthy stamina is tested. Do we have the tenacity, the determination, the courage to do the right thing? Have you ever been pressured by others you work with, or worse yet a boss, to make an unethical decision? Four tried and true strategies can help you if faced with such an awkward encounter. Restate the request, ask for the request in writing, say no, confront.

Let's coach Shay on these four approaches. Her manager has just asked her to sign an employee's time sheet even though they both know the employee did not work as many hours as reported because she's been home with a sick child. Shay is sympathetic, but knows signing the card is a direct violation of company policy and it's technically a lie. To restate the request, Shay would simply say you want me to sign the sheet even though it has ten more hours then she actually worked? If her boss still doesn't back down, she might ask for the request in writing.

If you want me to sign this sheet, I'd like your request in writing and signed, pleased. Shay may have to be very direct and simply say no. Let's look for another option to help her out. I can't, in good conscience sign this sheet, because she worked 30 not 40 hours this week. Could she work some overtime next week? And finally, Shay might feel best if she just confronts the issue head-on. I'm not comfortable with that. The company policy and state labor law are very clear on this issue.

Of course, if none of these approaches work, Shay should consider taking the issue to a higher level, or even finding another place to work. What she should not do is risk her own reputation, credibility and trust with others by making an unethical choice. As challenging as this situation might have been for Shay, the second kind of dilemma is even harder to deal with. What do we do when right and wrong are not clear? Maybe a specific fund was designated for equipment, that you longer need.

You have to use it or lose it with this money. Would it really hurt to be creative on the purchase order if it benefits your department in the long run? Or, you were asked to keep information about upcoming layoffs a secret until the formal announcement, but you know one of the people who will lose his job. And he's about to make an offer on a house. You can think of a myriad of other situations where the line between right and wrong is not at all clear. Ethicists themselves argue over the best approach. But here are a few guidelines to help you sort through your toughest decisions.

What benefits and harms will each course of action produce? And which alternative will lead to the best overall consequences? What moral rights do the affected parties have? And which course of action best respects those rights? Which course of action treats everyone the same and does not show favoritism or discrimination? What sort of person should you aim to be, and what action would best fulfill that? Consider the newspaper test. If an impartial reporter were to publish the story of your actions, what do you want the newspaper headline to say? And finally, when in a tough situation I imagine telling my beloved grandmother about my actions.

Whose opinion do you respect with all your heart? Can you imagine looking that person in the eye and explaining your actions without any embarrassment? If so, you've probably made a great choice. Hopefully these guidelines will help you to flex your trustworthy muscle even in tough situations. Trust begins at the core and while I haven't met you, I believe your very interest in this training seminar means your motivations are good. You'd get tens on all five of those trust predictors.

I'm guessing you are a trustworthy person. But, trustworthy and trusted are not the same thing. How can we illustrate to others that our intentions are good, that we're competent and honest? In our next circle, we'll look at those things we can do, little things and big things, day in and day out. To show people that we deserve to be trusted.

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Building Trust

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Brenda Bailey-Hughes
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