Making Decisions Ethically: A Step-By-Step Process
There is not a day, or even a moment that goes by that we are not faced with some type of decision. Some of these decisions are over minor issues: “Do I have the salad for lunch or the salmon?” Still other decisions are quite substantial. For instance, “Do I accept the higher paying job in another state or do I stay where I am?” Life is a series of choices with each choice we make affecting the next choice we will make. It is the prudent individual who arms himself or herself with skills and techniques to facilitate this process in the quickest, most efficient, most rational manner possible. I have found that using a combination of models aids me in this purpose. The Josephson Institute’s primer, Making Ethical Decisions, combined with a model by Corey (1998) that involves ethical decision-making.
Combined, these models are excellent in guiding decision-making. The first step is taken from Josephson’s model and should be used throughout the process: Stop and Think. That is worth repeating – STOP AND THINK.
2) (Corey) Identify the Problem.
3) (Josephson) Clarify Goals.
4) (Corey) Identify Potential Issues Involved.
5) (Corey) Review Relevant Ethical Guidelines.
6) (Josephson) Determine the Facts.
7) (Corey) Know Relevant Laws and Regulations.
8) (Corey) Obtain Consultation.
9) (Josephson and Corey) Consider Possible and Probable Courses of Action.
10) (Josephson and Corey) List Consequential Possible and Probable Action.
11) (Josephson and Corey) Decide on What Appears to be the Best Course of
12) (Josephson) Monitor and Modify.
The first step, stop and think, may seem to be an elementary concept, but it is often overlooked by many. When this step is neglected, the critical thinking process pretty much goes out the window and you tend to use heuristics, or mental short cuts, to make your decision. Not to be misunderstood, heuristics can lead a person into a rational, seat-of-your-pants decision, but many times that is not the case. Just stop and think.
The next step in this journey is to identify the problem. This means you must get to the root of the problem. The symptoms may be tempting to address instead of the problem itself simply because it is easier to see and usually easier to solve, but solving the root will eliminate many of the symptomatic issues.
Once the root is identified you must clarify goals and identify potential issues involved. This is achieved by examining the problem and all the issues surrounding it as well as reviewing relevant ethical guidelines, determining the facts and knowing relevant laws and regulations.
Although there are some decisions that can be made solely, they are few and far between. Two heads are better than one and it is wise to obtain consultation. This can be done by conferring with a co-worker, peer, supervisor or a survey of many.
From there, consider possible and probable courses of action, list consequential possible and probable action and decide on what appears to be the best course of action. In other words, look at what could possibly go wrong, establish a back-up plan (or two) and make a decision.
Finally, monitor and modify your decision. If necessary, go to your contingency plan. Regularly check to see if your plan or decision is working the way you want. It may be wise to develop a checklist to follow in your evaluation of the outcome. Most important throughout this process is to stay on topic. Stay the course, do not stray.
We make decisions every day, some good, some not-so-good, but with some guidelines and critical thinking things can be worked out.