Confronted with an Ethical Dilemma: What Will You Do?

It’s easier to speculate about something that might be done in the future than to actually act — especially if it’s a difficult decision that has personal implications or direct impacts.  This type of mental positioning can often be shortsighted, misguided, and self-serving if there aren’t full considerations (versus a cursory review) about potential outcomes that might occur due to a failure to prevent wrongful activities.  Notwithstanding, one of the biggest factors in ethical decision-making is personal beliefs, which aren’t always fully considered, evaluated, or processed.

Beliefs aren’t always considered while making decisions; even though, personal beliefs effect the way someone processes a situation, considers options, or acts.  During an ethical evaluation, beliefs represent a culmination of direct and indirect experiences throughout someone’s life.  If someone is unethical — even a little bit, then this behavior can negatively impact their future ethical decision-making.  The rationale for this is that once someone acts or behaves inappropriately, then it can be easier to do it again.  Moreover, if someone’s morals and values directs them to behave a certain way and then the person acts differently dependent on a situation, then what might this suggest about their character?!  The answer to this question isn’t simple because a bad choice at a moment doesn’t mean that someone will make the same type of decision again.

Generally, the manner in which someone makes a decision is more complicated than a “yes or no” response.  Arguably, the greater the potential for personal gains or negative impacts, the more likely it can be for someone to make a decision that’s more aligned with punitive avoidance.

Beliefs and decision-making are collectively driven by three components:
* Concept – something that’s generally accepted to be true;
*****Is this considered to be true?

* Consideration – a determination as to whether something is true for an individual;
*****Is this true for me?

* Convenience – a decision made for personal risk reduction, benefit, or gain.
*****Is this true for me at this moment?

​Ethical decision-making goes beyond the often used and limited evaluation as to whether something is “good or bad” or “right or wrong”.  Therefore, these three components drive individuals to test their considerations to determine if their choices and subsequent decisions are made for convenience reasons.  The challenge is that tough or heart-wrenching decisions can cause individuals to analyze too much or be paralyzed by perceived personal risk(s) of making an ethical decision verses the value of doing the right thing(s).  If the former is used as the criteria, then too many times those who engage in questionable or unethical behavior are (unfortunately) allowed to continue their actions because of someone’s unnecessary complicity due to inaction.  As a result, individuals who are involved in malfeasance are given implicit approval to prolong their self-serving actions.

Individuals don’t always prevent questionable or unethical activities or behaviors due to:
* the potential impact to personal earnings;
* an inability to take care of family;
* the fear of retaliation;
* the potential of lost opportunities;
* the perceptions of others;
* learned behavior that those who speak-up are harassed, punished, scrutinized, forced to resign, or terminated;
* undocumented or misunderstood processes;
* a mistaken belief that it’s none of their business;
* a lack of safeguards to protect those who report wrongdoings.

Individuals usually know if their or others’ behaviors are questionable or unethical.  Nevertheless, ethical decisions sometimes require additional information to fully consider a situation or make a subsequent choice.  The challenge – at times – can be associated with incidents that fall within an uncertain classification or someone’s determination as to whether or not to get involved.  During these types of considerations, there can be significant internal conflicts to contend with while attempting to act or behave ethically.

Choosing to take a stand against questionable or unethical activities isn’t always easy.  However, it’s better than at best being complicit or at worst being an accomplice to activities that can have negative impacts to individuals, organizations, companies, and societies.  Moreover, there must be societal support, training reinforcement, corporate policies, and laws to ensure that those who report illicit activities are protected.  Consequently, there will be reduced misgivings about reporting those who breach their personal, fiduciary, and societal responsibilities.

​Without prudent leadership and strength of character, the answer to the question “Confronted with an Ethical Dilemma: What will you do?” will unfortunately and unnecessarily (too often) be silence due to practices of convenience versus having the fortitude to do the right thing(s).

This post was originally published as part of the “2016 PMI Global Congress – North America” proceedings.

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