Do the Right Thing: 5 Steps to Better Ethical Decisions
Have you ever been faced with a situation that prompts you to compare different solutions and consider what the right thing to do is? You might be experiencing an ethical dilemma – hypothetical and actual experiences that force the decision maker to choose between two options that both may have regrettable consequences. In an ethical dilemma, there is rarely a clear answer about what is the right choice, and we have to rely on our morals and values to navigate those situations.
To make ethical decisions, consider following a process provided by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
Recognize the Ethical Issue
The first step in these situations is to acknowledge that you are experiencing an ethical dilemma. You may be faced with a decision where you need to choose between short-term success but long-term failure. You could be in a situation where you need to choose between compassion or justice, or where you have to weigh the needs of an individual against the needs of the group.
Get the Facts
Once you have determined that you do need to make an ethical decision, get the facts so you can make an informed decision. Ask yourself what you already know about the situation, what you don’t know yet and need to find out, and whether you even have enough information to make a decision. If not, who can you consult to get the information you need to make an informed decision?
Once you have enough information, evaluate your options by asking a few key questions:
- Which option will produce the most good and do the least harm?
- Which option best respects the rights of all who have a stake in the decision?
- Which option treats people equally or proportionately?
- Which option best serves the community as a whole, not just some members?
- Which option leads me to act as the sort of person I want to be?
Make a Decision and Test it
Once you feel that you have reviewed your options and you have a decision, test your decision. Consider if you told someone you respect about the decision you made, what would they say? Or if you explained your rationale publicly, how would people respond?
Act and Reflect on the Outcome
Think through how you can implement the decision with the greatest care and concern for everyone involved. Once the decision is implemented, reflect on the outcomes. How did the decision turn out and what did you learn from this situation?
Use this specific process for ethical decision making to improve the quality of outcomes, set the stage for doing the right thing, improve relationships, and be a better leader.