Noticing Early Warning Signs
The moment your stomach gets that twinge about what you are doing, just hearing about, or planning to do, or someone else in your company, your family, or the community is starting or plans to start doing, stop and ask yourself, and perhaps others:
- What is (is there) ideal behavior here?
- How are ethical questions being surfaced and addressed?
- What remains unsaid, ignored, actually covered up?
- When will leaders address the ethical expectations of others?
- Is the profit (personal benefit) motive in balance with your own ethical expectations?
Use the Fitzpatrick Ethical Decision-Making Guide
to Help Resolve, Some Ethical Dilemmas
By Kathy R. Fitzpatrick, JD, APR, Former Member Public Relations Society Of America (PRSA) Board Of Ethics And Professional Standards (BEPS) Found On PRSA.org
For public relations and other professionals, ethical dilemmas arise when responsibilities and loyalties conflict and a decision about the appropriate – i.e., ethical – course of action must be made. Often, a choice is required among actions that meet competing obligations. For example, when might the obligation to serve the public interest override loyalty to clients? When does a particular stakeholder’s interest take priority over an employer’s interest? In other words, just exactly what is “responsible advocacy”? Apply these questions to sort things out:
- Define the specific ethical issue/conflict.
- Identify internal/external factors (e.g., legal, political, social, economic) that may influence the decision.
- Identify key values.
- Identify the parties who will be affected by the decision and define the public relations professional’s obligation to each.
- Select ethical principles to guide the decision-making process.
- Make a decision and justify it.
When We Need to Go Beyond the Fitzpatrick Model
The Moral Questioning Menu
Often at first, it seems most ethical questions have simple direct answers. Closer examination generally requires that we expand our investigations and questions to develop more thoughtful, deeper, and often more complex responses.
This list of questions is a menu of deeper exploration of ethical issues. Pick the questions that are most likely to reveal and explore important information to help you make your decisions and choices.
- Who does the questionable behavior bother?
- Who has been involved, injured, afflicted, or victimized??
- Who made decisions?
- Who was asking questions, and of whom?
- What affirmative steps are now being taken to remedy the situation?
- What are the principles involved?
- What are the relevant facts of the situation?
- What alternatives are available?
- What decisions were made, when, where, and by whom?
- What did we know, and when did we know it?
- What ethical standards or principles of conduct are involved or at issue?
- What is the fundamental cause of the situation? Omission? Commission? Negligence? Arrogance? Action? Inaction? Denial? Indecision?
- What is the truth?
- What lessons can the organization learn as this dilemma is revealed?
- What other questionable decisions or actions may come to light?
- What was sacrificed to benefit the outcome or the victims?
- How could this have been avoided?
- How will future unethical behavior be disclosed? To whom and how fast?
- How will our principles be advanced or violated by each alternative action?
- Is it really our problem?
- Is it really an ethical question?
- Are all the critical ethical questions being asked and answered?
- Are our actions open and honest?
- As an organization are we prepared to comment on the behavior that led to ethical compromise?
- Did this happen because there’s an institutional code of silence?
- Has all of the information been presented honestly and correctly thus far?
- Was there a serious and prompt attempt to find out what was really going on?
- When bad things happen, they often come to our attention as dilemmas – that is, situations where we must choose between two equally bad, sometimes repugnant choices:
- “Are you still beating your wife or just being arrogant and obstructive?”
- “Did you or your company/organization do this intentionally, maliciously, or negligently?”
- Bad situations often have a moral dimension and questions that need to be asked promptly to assess the moral dimension, if any. Asking these moral questions early can trigger prompt, appropriate detoxifying actions and decisions and assess appropriate ethical behaviors.
Failure to ask questions can be considered an ethical failure by omission. Ask the right questions early as suspect situations are developing. Moral questioning may help you to head off serious difficulty or perhaps even enhance the value of your decisions and actions.