Managing Moral & Ethical Conflicts In Your Business
- What am I talking about? In my blog Post Morals vs Ethics (17 May 2017) I outlined my own definition of morals and ethics; 'Morals represent what is accepted as right and wrong within any given societal group. Ethics concerns how a societal group uses their 'moral-sense' to control the actions of it's members.’ As a leader/manager it is important to remember that when dealing with moral and ethical conflicts we must keep an open mind. This it Is made easier if we accept that things are rarely clear-cut and that deep rooted belief systems are not easily changed.
- The basics you must consider. It's simplistic to label things completely good or completely bad. There is always more than one point of view and, a persons viewpoint is always a complicated mix of personal psychology, culture, socio-economic background and experience. In essence this means that we all have to respect everyone else's point of view; agreement it is not necessary acceptance is what's important. Keeping a completely open mind is not easy and takes practice. I find it helpful to think about questions that have no definitive answer. I find a suitable question and I set about creating as many different answers as I can. Even simple thoughts are complex "You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” Albert Einstein
- I love thought experiments. Schrödinger’s Cat/the role of observation, The ship of Theseus/the nature of identity, The Trolley Problem/personal dilemmas, The Infinite Monkey Theorem/the nature of infinity, The Ticking Time Bomb/do the ends alway justify the means etc. etc. To me they are not just interesting puzzles, they remind me to keep an open mind and explore all possibilities before I come to a conclusion. I also like to create my own examples/ variations. They may be flawed but I like coming up with them.
- Consider this dilemma; In a hospital, specifically founded to help the poor, a hospital administrator has one life-saving vaccine and two people who need it. The first person is a brilliant young but poor student. The second is an old rich banker. When asked to plead their case, the young student begs for the chance to live a long and fruitful life, the banker simply offers a £10 million donation to the hospital. What would you do?
- Change perspective. Having considered our hospital dilemma, ask yourself what would you do if you had secretly observed what went on and disagreed with the final decision. Would you, stay silent, complain about the decision internally or take the issue to a wider audience. If you feel like extending things even further change the people involved try - a baby vs a criminal or any pairing that involves race, gender, culture, class or disability. If you are honest with yourself you will learn a lot about the sort of deep-rooted prejudice/cognitive bias that we all struggle with.
- 'Knowledge is power’. Knowing allows us to understand and control our natural impulses. In the context of managing moral and ethical conflicts; understanding and accepting our own flaws allows us to recognise and tolerate the views of others which in turn makes us better mediators and more able when it comes to dispute resolution.
On a more practical level.-
- Involve yourself early.
- Accurately define the conflict.
- Encourage open, safe and respectful dialogue.
- Offer a neutral/balanced opinion.
- Suggest a solution that respects the views of everyone involved.
- Accept that sometimes there is no amicable resolution and be prepared to assert your authority.