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How Moral Reasoning in Business Can Provide You with the Best Course of Action – Part 1

By Thomas Garrubba, Senior Director, The Santa Fe Group

Though I am not a psychologist, I have spent many years managing teams, leading projects, and advising people – experiences that have helped me realize the importance of appropriately phrasing questions – in both social and business settings – to provoke thoughtful opinions from others (a tip of the hat to Dr. Frank Luntz and his wonderful book, Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear). I’ve learned from experience how responses can vary based on how you phrase a question. For example, the question, “what are your thoughts on this?” could elicit a much different reply than “what are your feelings about this?” There is a difference between “thinking” and “feeling.”

When I ask someone what they think, I want the responder to apply their logic. When I ask what they feel I expect their emotions to play into their response. However, a question sometimes requires a multi-dimensional analysis – a response that is both cerebral and sentimental. That is when I began to consider a third alternative; replacing both thoughts and feelings with beliefs.

Let’s try a business scenario as an example: You’ve been alerted that a key project managed by a vendor has fallen off the rails, causing a huge mess across the enterprise. You are in your office with three advisors and you ask the question “what do you believe we should do here?” Let’s look at their replies:

Advisor 1: “We need to dump them! There are a lot of eyes on this project and they’re supposed to be the subject matter experts. I feel what occurred was inexcusable and it’s going to cause a huge headache for all of us on the backend – particularly with our customers.”

Advisor 2: “No – we need to keep them as they are also contributing to other projects. I think we need to wait to hear from them as to exactly what occurred. This fail may have been something that was unavoidable but we should at least allow them to tell us what occurred.”

Advisor 3: “Let’s bring them in immediately and talk to them directly. I believe they’ve always delivered and come in on budget in the past. Also, they’re not overpriced and we do need to take into consideration the long-term relationships our various business units have with them. Perhaps we have additional discussions with the business units as well to get their insights as to an alternative.”

You’ll quickly notice the first two responses reveal stark differences in their course of action. Advisor 1’s response “we should dump them” is a quick indicator this was an emotional response. Clearly they’re upset over the situation and they want to deal with it emotionally, rather than thinking it through (further indicated by “I feel…”). In Advisor 2’s response, there’s a more cerebral answer as it utilized deductive reasoning (“I think…”) as well as past experiences with the vendor. In the final response from Advisor 3, past experience is utilized in their logic as well as moral reasoning in factoring in the relationship the vendor has with the business units (“I believe…”).

Though these are very elementary examples that can certainly go deeper, you can deduce the various types of reasoning.

What Do You Believe?

I’ve begun to ask people, when appropriate, what they believe is the right course of action given the scenario, as I’m attempting to get them to share with me what I’ve called their moral reasoning – a combination of their personal code of ethics and belief system, combined with their deductive reasoning. Doing this further provides me with insight into their ability to provide both their logical analysis and their emotions/feelings in a single response.

Next month, we will flip this over – with your superior requesting your opinion and having you applying moral reasoning. We’ll also discuss where “going with your gut” comes into your analysis.

References:

http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/identity-is-lost-without-a-moral-compass

Shared Assessments Senior Director, Tom Garrubba, is an experienced professional in IT risk and information controls, most recently in developing, maintaining, and consulting on third party risk (TPR) programs for Fortune 100 companies. A nationally recognized subject matter expert and top-rated speaker on third party risk. Connect with Tom on LinkedIn

Originally posted on the Huffington Post blog.

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