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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why It’s So Hard to Train Someone to Make an Ethical Decision

Eugene Soltes
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted January 11, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The second factor distinguishing training exercises from real-life decision making is that training inevitably exposes different points of views and judgments. Although many organizations outwardly express a desire for a diversity of opinions, in practice those differing viewpoints are often stifled by the desire to agree or appease others. Even at the most senior levels of the organization, independent directors struggle to dissent. For instance, Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco who grew the firm from obscurity into a global conglomerate but later faced criminal charges for embezzlement, recalled the challenge of board members genuinely disagreeing and pushing back on him as CEO when the firm was performing well. “When the CEO is in the room, directors — even independent directors — tend to want to try to please him,” Kozlowski explained. “The board would give me anything I wanted. Anything.”

Finally, unlike in training, when a single decision might be given an hour of careful analysis, most actual decisions are made quickly and rely on intuition rather than careful, reflective reasoning. This can be especially problematic for moral decisions, which often rely on routine and intuitions that produce mindless judgements that don’t match up with how we’d desire to respond if we considered the decision with more time.

The article is here.

Editor's note: While I agree that it can be difficult to teach someone to make an ethical decision, maybe we can develop alternative ways to teach ethical decision-making. Ethics education requires attention to how personal values blend with work responsibilities, emotional reactions to ethical dilemmas, and biases and heuristics related to decision-making skills in general, and ethics in particular.  If an individual feels pressure to make a decision, then there are typically ways to slow down the process.  Finally, ethics education can include quality enhancement strategies, including redundant protections and consultation, that can bolster the opportunity for better outcomes.