When you are on the threshold of starting a career like we are, you may be wondering how to even begin making selections. We have all decided that we will be searching for careers that will allow us to maintain our good character and be ethical career choices. That may seem odd, but the idea is that by doing the work we have chosen, we will feel like we are making things better for those around us and also continuing to operate at the high ethical standards we have set for ourselves. A decision like this may look different for each person.
Take a store manager for example. A store manager with good character would treat everyone equally and with respect, handle the finances properly, and take excellent care of the customers, choosing the greater good of all involved over only profits. Another example could be a doctor. People feel especially vulnerable in situations like doctor visits when they’re sitting there in a paper gown or with potentially embarrassing symptoms, so as a doctor you might want to put your patient at ease instead of appearing judgmental when they come to you with a problem. It is simple things like this that can help you be better in your chosen field as well as being a better person. The two things do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Even something that may seem very clearly to have right and wrong decisions, like being a police officer or a judge, can still provide one with ethical dilemmas. The key is to evaluate each decision as it comes and not make assumptions based on your own experiences. There will always be people who do the wrong thing for the right reason and people who do the right thing for the wrong reasons. There will also be laws that you may feel are biased toward certain people or are completely unjust. You will have to decide between making decisions that are ethically right for you versus legally right. If you cannot make the two things agree, this field may not be for you.
When you are looking for a job, try to get a feel for the “corporate culture” of any prospective employer. Do they seem cutthroat? If you google them, do you see any evidence of unsavory business practices?Even companies who are supposed to be charitable organizations can be unscrupulous. The information can be hard to find, so you may want to go to the interview prepared with your own questions. Find out what the average turnover rate is. If people are typically there for only a short time, that could be a bad sign. Ask about what behaviors are rewarded (for example, do people receive rewards individually for meritorious service, or does it get pooled together? Are there incentives to work harder?) and what their policy is on slow performance.
Trying to find a job that is fulfilling, has an acceptable salary and allows you to operate in an ethical manner sounds impossible, but with some work (and maybe some luck), you should be able to head down the right path!
Making ethical decisions is not something that comes naturally to people. You learn right from wrong as you grow up from all kinds of places: your family, your religious beliefs, your education, and your friends. Together with your life experiences, these influences have a profound effect on your decision making. These things also shape our views when we have to make choices that are not so clear cut. We may make those decisions based on past hurts, personal gain, or because we don’t see any other option.
The great thing about ethics is that you can start thinking ethically at any time. All you really have to do is want to improve both yourself and those around you. Decide what kind of person you want to be. Do you want to be more altruistic and do more for others? Do you want to be more judicious in your decisions and make sure that you treat everyone more fairly? Do you want to restore the self-respect of those around you? What does treating people—including yourself—with respect look like to you? These are the kinds of questions that may come up as you try to better yourself. No one answer is right for everyone, and you can choose some of one thing and add something else as you go. It all depends on how you want to see yourself.
After you have an idea of the kind of person you want to be, you can start putting that ideal into practice. When a situation comes up and there is not aclear-cut decision to be made, stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish for yourself. For example, if you are at work and presented with two different bids for the same project and have to select one, how do you decide? If you want to treat people more fairly, would you pick one team over the other and then promise the team you didn’t select that it will be their turn next time? Would you try to combine the two bids into one so that everyone felt like they contributed a little? There are so many ways to look at a situation, and once you find one that you feel represents who you are trying to become, you know you have the right decision.
The last thing that we have found when you are trying to do things in an ethical way is to follow through with what you set out to do. It might be nice to think about doing and being better but you actually have to commit to putting in the work as well. If you tell people that you are going to treat them fairly, and then constantly choose the second-rate projects from your favorite employee, then you aren’t living up to your word. If you make a tough decision and complications arise, own them. Don’t try to deflect it onto someone else or try to sweep it under the rug. Don’t continue to find exceptions or loopholes to the ethical standard you have created for yourself.
You can do this! It’s never too late to start!
People make mistakes. It is in our nature. We don’t always do the right thing for any number of reasons. Sometimes we don’t know what the right thing to do is in a particular situation. Sometimes we know and it is just easier (or better) for us if we don’t. Other times, we do what we think is best and there are unintended consequences. Some seem good in the moment but hindsight reveals the path we should have taken instead. We make a lot of decisions over the course of a lifetime; not all of them are going to be the best choices.
Is there a way to try and avoid making mistakes in decision making?
This is a question we have been asking ourselves often. The answer is probably no, but there are ways to make your decisions BETTER than before. You may not always make the correct choice in the end, but if you feel that you have tried to do the best you can when you’re making decisions, even mistakes will be something you can learn from and not feel as guilty about. When you can’t find a right or wrong answer, you can think about things in an ethical manner. The method we have been taught in class can be done in five steps.
- Recognize that the decision you are facing is an ethical one. Decide that you are going to make the decision that is going to be the right one, regardless of your own personal stakes in the matter. Could your decision negatively affect someone? Are there legal consequences?
- Once you determine what the decision is really about, you need to be more informed. Be honest with what you know and try to find out anything else that might help you make the right decision. Talk to the people it might impact and get their take on the situation. Discover what your options are.
- Now that you have options, you need to evaluate them.Hopefully, by following this step, a pattern will emerge and you will start to eliminate the bad choices and be left with one good decision. Look at the options from all sides. You want to find the decision that will work best for all involved. You can also look at it from your point of view: which decision aligns with the person you want to be?
- Choose the option you feel best handles the situation. Imagine yourself having to defend this decision. Would it be hard to do, or would you feel good about it? If someone you admired asked you what you planned to do, do you think they would approve of what you have decided? If you feel confident at this point that you have come to the right decision, that is what you should do.
- After you have made your decision and seen the impact, reflect on what you have done. Did you achieve the outcome you were hoping for? If not, why not? Were there any unexpected consequences? Do you think you could or should have seen them coming? Did you learn anything as a result of this decision? Now that you know how it affected anyone involved, would you make the same decision over again? As you reflect on the choice you made, and you answer these questions honestly, you can put the things you learned toward the next decision and continue to make better choices as you go through life.
These steps may not apply if you are trying to figure out what movie to see or whether you want to purchase a blue couch or a brown one. But when you are faced with a decision and are not sure what to do, or if it will impact others, using the above steps may help guide you to the best choice.