Decision-Making and Emotional Self-Regulation

by William Ieuter, CPCU

cpcuOut of the blue, your friend asks you to do something unethical. What do you say? Are you prepared with an answer? Probably not.

Professor C. K. Gunsalus at the University of Illinois Business School teaches an ethics class required of all first-year business students “to help students form responses and habits that build professional responsibility muscle.” He notes that “thinking you will be able to say ‘no’ to a request that goes against your personal values and actually having the words to do it are very different.”

Students tackle two-minute challenges repeatedly over the semester to learn practical strategies for decision making and emotional self regulation.

Wow—emotional self-regulation? I bet most of us wish we had “emotional self regulation” at various times in our life. But applying it to ethical behavior? I never gave it a second thought. However, it really makes sense.

“Would you please sign as a witness to my customer’s signature on this legal form? He signed it and mailed it in, but forgot to have it witnessed.” Are you ready to answer this? How about, “I’m such a straight arrow that I just wouldn’t be comfortable doing it.”

“The policy expired yesterday. Would you please sign this application dated yesterday? I know there have been no losses.” Possible answer: “Let me get this straight. You want me to backdate this application to cover our error? I just wouldn’t be comfortable doing that.”

Having a personal script ready helps buy time to respond more thoroughly when you don’t want to agree but also don’t want to offend. When being asked to do something you’re not sure of, you may find that repeating the question helps: “Did I get this right?” “Did I understand you correctly?”

Business schools around the country are revisiting how they teach ethics. A recent Wall Street Journal article was headlined, “Does an ‘A’ in an Ethics Class Have any Value?” The article notes that a one-semester course in students’ senior year doesn’t seem to be working and that many business schools are integrating ethics classes into their core classes starting in the freshman year.

If universities are integrating ethics

into their educational process beginning with the freshman year, and business schools are worried about graduating students who have a myopic view when it comes to ethics, shouldn’t we in the business world be constantly integrating ethics into our business culture?

Rarely does unethical action take place in a group setting. It normally involves just two people. Adopting some of the ideas taught in our business schools may be a great way to improve a company’s ethics culture.

In the meantime, have a couple of responses ready as part of your emotional self regulation. You never know when you will need them.

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