Practical Ethics: Four Paths to Greater Virtue

by Frank Bucaro

Values and ethics are vital in today's business climate.Four good practical tips to enhance your negotiation style and show you how to stay on the right path.

Negotiation Ethics

It is no surprise to me that, in this time of comprised ethics and values, there are an ever increasing number of books and articles that stress the importance of ethics and values in everyday life.

Ethics, ethical behaviour, and taking personal responsibility for choices carry even more importance in today’s business world. It is with this in mind that I would like to share with you a few reflections on ethics to assist us maintain that high standard of thought, behaviour and negotiation styles.

To help guide us along that route, here are four basic ideas for your consideration.

1. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE COMMON GOOD, AND WHAT ROLE DOES IT PLAY IN OUR DECISION MAKING?

In all of our businesses, this question needs some deliberation. Generally, what is good for the "other", whether it be our customer, employees, spouse, family, etc., takes precedence over our own needs and desires.

I think we all would agree that sometimes, in business, egos take precedence over good business practices and good relationship building. Ego can get in the way of truly providing service.

We must ask ourselves if we are in business for ourselves, or to take our gift and talents to the workplace and in the spirit of service -strive to make a difference in the lives of those we serve.

When our ego (i.e. needs) gets in the way of that service, the common good no longer is served. And as in any business, word spreads - and how do we combat a damaged reputation?

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to be truly "other focused" as a central factor in maintaining your ethical balance. Whether it is amongst ourselves, as business professionals, or in dealing with our customers, staff, etc., the question needs to be asked, "What can I do for you to get you to cooperate with me?"

This simple question reflects the old adage that life is in the giving, not in the getting, and to the degree to give is to the degree you get. One can never go astray in putting other people's feelings, needs, and concerns ahead of our own. This concept of the common good needs some consideration before a decision is made.

2. THE CENTRAL IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNAL WISDOM

It seems that in business today, we sometimes tend to be too narrowly focused to see a bigger picture. There is a tendency, on occasions, to see our way as the only way or our approach as the only approach. It seems necessary, if you're ever uncertain whether something you want to do is ethical, appropriate, or acceptable, to find colleagues, friends, etc. who you know are "for you" and bounce your choices off them.

We need to have people around us who have no other agenda than to do what's right for us. Whether we agree or disagree, that type of advice is invaluable in helping to discern which path to follow.

We need to be open to their perspectives, their honesty, and their genuine concern for us and our success. Any number of ethical issues, questions, and situations might easily be resolved by "tapping" the wisdom of those who have your best interest at heart. It certainly will cut the "learning curve" and keep you on better focused on your task.

If you think about it, a few of us could have saved ourselves a lot of pain, agony, money, time, and effort, if we'd only asked for input of others and used it!

3. STAYING TRUE TO ONESELF AND YOUR VALUES

Let it be stated up front that this statement is not to be interpreted as what I think and feel are always right or can be justified; but rather, we are the sum total of all that has gone before us in our lives. All the people, experiences, relationships, etc., that have been influential in the development of our value system, are part of us and must be taken into account in our decision making.

Whether the influences were religious, ethnic, political, or cultural, they play a central role in the development of who we are as individuals, not to mention business people.

That journey of life to this point has instilled into us our perceptions, attitudes, values and insights that have directed us as individuals and have been instrumental in the building of our businesses.

If that journey has been on of positive influence, we must stay true to it. However, if our journey has had some negative influences, we will be challenged to determine whether that's the path we want to follow, or if we need an attitude check that may lead us to a more productive path.

In general, we must stay true to the essence of those values, even though the variables may change. For example, the Constitution of the United States is the essence of law; how it is applied or amended is the variable. All businesses need a code of Ethics for the same reason. People need to know “the essence" so they can apply it. Everyone speaks their own truth, but that doesn't make it "The Truth." We need to be in touch with our own values and yet be open to the fact that they are not absolute and need, at times, to be open to re-evaluation -and maybe even a new direction.

4. ALWAYS BEWARE OF THE ETHICS GAP

What is the ethics gap? The gap is what I know about right from wrong and what I think it takes to be successful. Most people know right from wrong; however, when it comes to business, sometimes compromising those values can become a real "temptation."

This gap is present in any situation, especially business. It's involved in how we work with customers, colleagues, staff, and even family. Everyone knows somebody who they prefer not to do business with, or refer business to on the basis of what's important to them. The real challenge is to diminish the size of the gap rather than hope to eradicate it altogether. How do we do that?

We need to align our work values and principles with their personal values and principles and proceed accordingly.

However, we can choose either a negative or a positive path to follow, based on whatever our values are and they effect those choices have on those around us.

People must move slowly in analyzing their values and ethics, and then must choose which path to follow well.

If we keep these four "paths" in mind for reflection when faced with an ethical and conflicting situation, they can't help but help us get pointed in the right direction, assisting us make the best possible decision.

Frank C. Bucaro, is the author of two books, Taking the High Road: How to Succeed Ethically When Others Bend the Rules and What Happened to the Good Guys in the White Hats? Lessons in Ethical Leadership.

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