Big Decision? Take some time to think about it (IO Psychology)

Topic(s): decision making, ethics

Topic: Decision Making, Ethics
Publication: Academy of Management Journal (FEB 2012)
Article: Contemplation and conversation: Subtle influences on moral decision making
Authors: Gunia, B. C., Wang, L., Huang, L., Wang, J., & Murninghan, J. K.
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

In the workplace, important decisions can hinge on the ethical strength of your decision makers. It may be more profitable to make an unethical or self-interested choice, but long term consequences can be dire (I’m lookin’ at you, Wall Street). When it comes to choosing between right and wrong, it is sad to think how easily employees can be swayed. Good news! It works the other way too! You can encourage your employees to make more ethical decisions with just a couple of simple actions. How? Oh, let me tell you!

In an experiment measuring how often individuals would be tell the truth about money (a jackpot to be split between the two of them), participants were more likely to tell the truth about the amount of money to be split if they had some extra time to think about it (contemplation) or if they talked to someone who suggested they make the moral choice (conversation). Take note—they could be swayed to lie if they were encouraged to do so as well, but the relationship was stronger for the positive. Now, isn’t that nice?

So, in this experiment, the choices were pretty clear–tell the truth or tell a lie. If only everything were that easy! For us folks living in the real world, lines tend to be fuzzier, but the bottom line still holds. When faced with a decision, time to think and talking to someone on the high road can help us make more ethically sound decisions.

Gunia, B. C., Wang, L., Huang, L., Wang, J., Murnighan, J. K. (2012). Contemplation and conversation: Subtle influences on moral decision making. Academy of Management Journal, 55, 13-33.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management

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