When news of an ethics breach hits the headlines, it can seem easy to identify where a company went wrong—in hindsight. But it’s not always so easy to identify the risks of ethical lapses before they happen.
Communication World asked Chris MacDonald, Ph.D., for some advice for communication professionals on how to spot risks in advance, and address them. MacDonald is an ethics professor and Interim Director of the Ted Rogers MBA program at Ryerson University. He is co-author of a best-selling textbook on critical thinking, and co-author of a popular textbook on business ethics. He is founding co-editor of The Business Ethics Journal Review, and of the news and commentary aggregator site, Business Ethics Highlights. He is perhaps best known as author of the highly-respected “Business Ethics Blog,” which he has been writing for 11 years.
CW: What are some ways to identify risks of ethical lapses in an organization?
Chris MacDonald: A key risk factor is when an organization tacitly accepts or even encourages rationalizations. People often rationalize their behavior when they bend or break rules, and there’s a lot of research showing that the ability to rationalize—to tell yourself a little story that makes you feel better, that gives your conscience an excuse—is actually at the root of a lot of unethical behavior. So if the organization tolerates people saying things like, “Oh, everybody does that” or “no one really gets hurt” or “it’s no big deal if it’s just this once,” they’re opening themselves up for trouble. Some organizations seem to let rationalizations run rampant, and it’s a huge risk.
The other risk is an inability to have open and honest discussions about ethics and values....
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