Understanding Your People’s Ethical Perspectives

Ethics is integral to decision making and is a key aspect of our personal and professional lives.

Sometimes our values clash with those of others or even with our own decisions. Have you found yourself torn between telling the truth and avoiding upsetting someone else? Have you ever felt unsure about how to respond to someone with a different set of values to your own?

When we face these conflicts we’ve entered ‘the ethics zone’ – when we have to decide what one ought to do. The process of engaging with the clash involves examining gut reactions, taking other perspectives, consulting with trusted mentors and being open to alternative viewpoints and possibilities. While some situations are self-evident and require little heavy lifting in terms of decision making, in many situations the choices are far less clear particularly when they are charged with questions of right and wrong.

Over the past three years The Ethics Centre has been working to develop a tool which gives insights into the dominant choices people are likely to make when confronted by an ethical decision. The Ethical Literacy Diagnostic is a diagnostic instrument designed to identify how individuals respond to ethical issues and what moral intuitions and judgements shape their decision-making.

In Peoplecorp’s latest lunchtime session The Ethics Centre’s Head of Innovation, John Neil, introduced participants to the key factors that affect ethical decision making and the role they play in affecting our choices. John then introduced the nine Ethical Literacy Styles: The Caretaker, Referee, Custodian, Activist, Libertarian, Champion, Orienteer, Virtuoso and Diplomat.

John described each of the key characteristics of the profiles and how they show up in people’s decision making and importantly, how to recognise and draw on the diversity that people bring to decision making.

John explained that the more we engage in the process of reflection and understanding of how we show up in making choices, the better we are able to understand differences in points of view and importantly, the difference in what matters to people that underpin choices.

In the context of increasing regulation and compliance, it is critical to realise that bad decisions and behaviour cannot be avoided simply by adhering to a check list of dos and don’ts. Every situation that might eventuate in the future cannot be covered off and conversely, the more rules we have the harder it is for people to remember them. This can end up stopping people doing things which are important for the organisation to pursue its goals. It is crucial that people do not become simple rule followers. Innovation, problem solving and responding to conditions of ambiguity and uncertainty require the exercise of good judgement.

This is where recognising our perspective and position plays a crucial role. Where people are encouraged to reflect on and discuss their decisions and the way they carry out their work, risk of ethical failure and poor decision making is reduced by:

  • Minimising groupthink.
  • Encouraging innovation and problem solving.
  • Challenging habitual ways of doing things.
  • Promoting collaboration and open communication.

Our thanks to John and The Ethics Centre for partnering with us again on such an interesting topic.