I was unaware of my own dilemma


Does it ever happen to you that someone else realises something before you do yourself? It happened to me recently. I had a dilemma that I wasn’t even aware of. And that’s a pretty odd thing to happen when you consider that I’m always reading about ethics, I give lectures and I work on the tension-filled area that lies between performance and ethics. And yet, despite all this, I was now a classic case of acting in a way that revealed a lack of sensitivity.

The case in point

We were asked by a potential client to make a proposal for dealing with their issue. So, armed with our experiences from similar tasks from other clients as well as inspiration from the current situation, I enthusiastically got to work with my colleagues. In order to let the client see and experience what the future could look like for them in as lively a way as possible, I decided to make use of a project that was already underway for another client. Magnificent pictures, some even in 3D, showed that it could actually be rather fun to get to work on their issue. I could give an insight into that project by using the login details that had been made available to me. Now that I come to describe it in this way, I can immediately see a red flag waving at me, but I couldn’t at the time. As Trevino described it in 2004, “Rarely do decisions come with red flags that wave at you and say, ‘Hey, I’m an ethical issue. Think about me in moral terms!’ “

Why didn’t I see it? Perhaps you’ll recognise the situation. Sometimes the day is just so busy. My colleagues and I described our approach in a phone call that lasted 15 minutes. And the process was under pressure, because the proposal had to be sent to the client ASAP. Our aim was therefore to be as pragmatic as possible. Until…

Until it happened

…Until my colleague asked me, “Sjoerd, do you really think we should be doing this?” It was only at that point that I felt it. Only then did I become sensitive to the dilemma. Only then came the realisation. This wasn’t a rational, pragmatic decision. This was an ethical decision. For example, how would this kind of procedure be perceived by our existing client? A procedure whereby we would be exposing a client’s information to an external party without asking the client’s explicit permission to do so? And how would my colleagues themselves view this? Is an organisation that adopts such an approach really a company they would want to work for? Even though I had read so often about the 4 steps mentioned by Rest (1984), I wasn’t actually applying them at the moment they were needed.

Als ik niet sensitief ben zal ik het dilemma überhaupt niet herkennen. In mijn volgende blog vertel ik over wat ik en mijn collega’s uiteindelijk gedaan hebben.


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