Building an ethical career

Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2020 by Nicole Fracasso

Most everyone considers themselves a good person, they aim to be ethical and hope to rise above in significant moments. But people sometimes fall short when it comes to creating an ethical career, writes Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac Smith in Harvard Business Review.

In this article, Kouchaki and Smith discuss a three-step approach to navigating moral challenges at work. They urge readers to “Prepare in advance for moral challenges, make good decisions in the moment; and reflect on and learn from moral successes and failures.”

When planning to be good, people know they should be thinking of the future, but choose to live in the present and sometimes make decisions without considering the implications. To overcome this, you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses, what your values are and when you’re most likely to violate them, they wrote.

For example, Kouchaki and Smith reference The Resume to Character by David Brooks, a book which compares resume virtues and eulogy virtues.

“Resume virtues often relate to what you’ve done for yourself, whereas eulogy virtues relate to the person you are and what you’ve done for others—that is, your character,” they wrote.

However, even when people are aware of their values, they can still overlook the consequences of their decisions and find ways to rationalize. To avoid this, Kouchaki and Smith offer three tests:

  • “The publicity test. Would you be comfortable having this choice, and your reasoning behind it, published on the front page of the local newspaper?”
  • “The generalizability test. Would you be comfortable having your decision serve as a precedent for all people facing a similar situation?”
  • “The mirror test. Would you like the person you saw in the mirror after making this decision – is that the person you truly want to be?”

The third step is “reflecting after the fact.” Kouchaki and Smith emphasize learning from these experiences.

“Ethical people aren’t perfect, but when they make mistakes, they review and reflect on them so that they can do better in the future,” they wrote.

But self-reflection can have limitations, they wrote. People can be blind to their own perspectives and biases. To overcome this, they recommend reaching out to people you trust for advice.

“You can approach this as you would job performance feedback: by asking specific questions, avoiding defensiveness, and expressing gratitude,” they wrote.

For more advice on building an ethical career, click here to read the article in full.

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