Why Good People Lie,Cheat and Steal
- Self-serving bias
Few people believe they’re average; most think they’re smarter and more ethical than those around them.That can lead to feelings of injustice. If somebody else gets a promotion, it’s not down to their performance and capacity, it must be something else. Those feelings, and overestimation of other’s biases can lead to unethical behavior.
- Conspicuous consumption
Extreme wealth, or environments that reflect it, can lead to unethical behavior. For employees, seeing others receive excessive bonuses or perks may create feelings of injustice and jealousy, which may lead them to unethical behavior.Research by Kathleen Vohs shows that the mere presence of money makes people more selfish, since they focus on success and individual needs over other factors.
- Obedience to authority
Obedience to authority is ingrained in our culture and workplace. When someone in a position of authority asks an employee to do something unethical or illegal, they can find it difficult to say no.It’s easier to justify bad behavior, and when people see themselves as an instrument of another’s wishes, they feel less responsible.
- The foot in the door
When a figure in authority asks someone to skirt the rules, they want to seem like a team player.Giving in modifies self perception. A person may begin to think of themselves as extremely loyal, someone who gets things done. In that frame of mind, they may be willing to do increasingly unethical things.
- Winner take-all competition
In situations where there is a clearly defined winner and loser, people are more likely to cheat. They desperately want to avoid the financial and reputational costs of losing.The people most likely to cheat may not even be those farthest behind, but rather those who are just short of their goal.
- Problematic punishments
Attaching fines or other economic punishments to immoral behavior can have an undesired effect. Once something is cast in those terms, it loses its moral connotation and becomes an entirely different calculation.Rather than being about whether something is right or wrong, it becomes an economic calculation about the likelihood of getting caught versus the potential fine.
- Lack of sleep and hypoglycemia
The rewards of unethical behavior are something people struggle with on a daily basis. As simplistic as it sounds, people who are hungry or tired have less self control.Research has found that tired participants asked to complete math tasks significantly over-report correct answers. While being tired or hungry won’t make someone embezzle, it leaves them more open to moments of weakness.
- Escalating commitment
Big thieves usually start out as small thieves. One way such actions become a slippery slope leading to ever greater misconduct is the feeling that there’s no way out.This has been seen in rogue traders who get bonuses for taking big risks. When those risks become big losses, they take even larger risks to try and make up for them.
- The induction mechanism
People compare their present behavior to what they’ve done in the past. Another way people slide down the slope of unethical behavior is to stop seeing that behavior as bad.As the unethical becomes routine, the extremely unethical, once unthinkable, enters the realm of possibility.
- Market and shareholder pressure
Former Citigroup CEO and Chairman Charles Prince once said, “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.”He was referring to the leveraged buyout market in 2007. Before the collapse, there was intense pressure for managers to join in on the huge and risky profits, despite the evident bubbliness of the market.
- Negative consequences of transparency
Transparency usually serves to reduce unethical behavior, as it increases the likelihood of getting caught. Experiments examining the publication of conflicts of interest have found a perverse effect.The effect comes from something called “moral licensing.” If a conflict of interest is publicly disclosed, it can seem less problematic, as if it has been agreed that it’s all right. That can lead people to indulge their bias.
- Bad communication
Issues of corruption and morality are often treated as black and white, where wrongdoers are badly punished and gray areas are not discussed.That can lead to an environment where rather than sounding out ideas that border on unethical, people push and test their limits.
- The pressure to conform
Nobody likes being a nuisance. In order to fit in with a group, people do things they might not otherwise. That can lead them to ignore abuses for the sake of peace or unity and go along with questionable decisions.
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