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Ethical Decision Making

Ethical Decision Making: this short article explains Ethical Decision Making in a practical way. Next to what it is (definition), this article also highlights the framework or models, the roadmap and process. Enjoy reading!

Ethical Decision Making: this short article explains Ethical Decision Making in a practical way. Next to what it is (definition), this article also highlights the framework or models, the roadmap and process. Enjoy reading!

What is ethical decision making?


Ethical decisions inspire trust and with it fairness, responsibility and care for others. The ethical decision making process recognizes these conditions and requires reviewing all available options, eliminating unethical views and choosing the best ethical alternative.

Good decisions are both effective and ethical. In professional relationships, good decisions build respect, trust, and are generally consistent with good citizenship. Effective decisions are effective when they achieve what they were made for. A choice that produces unintended results is ineffective and therefore not good.

The key to making good decisions is to think about the different choices that lie ahead in order to achieve the objectives. For that reason, it is also very important to understand the difference between short-term vs. medium to long term objectives.

Making ethical decisions requires a certain sensitivity to ethical issues and a method of examining all the considerations associated with a decision. Having a method or structure for making ethical decisions is therefore essential. After this process has been performed a few times, the method is trusted and it is easier to walk through the steps.

Below is a description of ethical decision-making methods.

Framework, model and methods for ethical decision making

If ethics is not based on religion, feelings, law, social practices or science, what is it based on? Countless philosophers and ethicists have attempted to answer this critical question. At least five different ethical norms or standards have been proposed. The most important are explained below.

The Utilitarian Approach

This approach dictates that the action that is the most ethical is the action that produces the most good and causes the least harm. In other words, the decision that strikes the greatest balance between good and evil.

In a business environment, it is therefore the decision that yields the most benefits and causes the least damage to customers, employees, shareholders, the environment, etc.

The Right Approach

The right approach suggests that the most ethical decision is the one that best protects and respects the moral rights of all concerned. This approach argues that people have a dignity based on human nature or their ability to freely choose what they want to do with their lives.

Based on that dignity, they have the right to be treated equally by others and not just as a means to an(other) end.

The Fairness or Justice Approach

All equals should be treated equally. The Greek philosopher Aristotle and others contributed to that idea. Today, this idea is used to indicate that ethical decisions treat everyone equally. If not equal, this must be based on a standard that is explainable.

People are paid more for their hard work when they contribute more to the organization. That is fair. But many wonder whether the salaries of CEOs, some 100 times higher than others, are fair. Is this standard defensible?

The Common Good Approach

The Greek philosophers also contributed to the idea that living in a community is a good thing. People’s actions and actions must contribute to this. This approach suggests that relationships within society are the basis of ethical reasoning and acting. Respect and compassion for all others, especially the vulnerable, are prerequisites for maintaining an ethical way of life.

The Virtue Approach

An ancient approach to ethics is the belief that acting ethically must be in accordance with certain virtues that ensure the development of humanity in general. Virtues are tendencies and habits that enable man to act with the highest potential of human character.

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Ethical decision-making process and roadmap

Below is a summary of the roadmap for the ethical decision-making process.

1. Gather the facts

Don’t jump to conclusions until the facts are on the table. Ask yourself questions about the issue at hand, such as the 5 whys method. Facts are not always easy to find, especially in situations where ethics plays an important part. Some facts are not available or clearly demonstrable. Also indicate which assumptions are made.

2. Define the ethical issue

Before solutions or new plans can be considered, the ethical issue is clearly defined. If there are multiple ethical focal points, only the most important should be addressed first.

3. Identify the stakeholders

Identify all stakeholders. Who are those primary stakeholders? And who are the secondary stakeholders? Why are they interested in this issue?

4. Identify the effects and consequences

Think about the possible positive and negative consequences associated with the decision. What is the magnitude of these consequences? And what is the probability that these consequences will actually occur? Distinguish between short-term and long-term consequences.

5. Consider integrity and character

Consider what the community thinks would be a good decision in this context. How would you like it if the national newspaper wrote about your decision? What is public opinion? How does your character and personality influence the decision to be made?

6. Get creative with potential actions

Are there other choices or alternatives that have not yet been considered? Try to come up with additional solutions or choices if a small number is considered.

7. Decide on the right ethical action

Consider the options based on each option’s consequences, duties, and character aspects. Which arguments are most suitable to justify the choice?

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