You know the problem with ethics education? It’s virtually impossible to talk about it without sounding pedantic or preachy. And since none of us like being lectured to, we all usually drown out conversations about ethical behavior because we don’t like feeling like we’re being talked down to. It’s basically the same reason none of us liked it when our parents told us to eat our peas because they were supposedly “good for us.” We didn’t like thinking that we weren’t good enough. That, and peas are gross. If I mix them up in mashed potatoes and then drown them in enough gravy to completely hide the taste, then maybe I can muscle them down. Otherwise, no thank you.
However, ethics training is important in order to prevent all of us from taking steroids and bribing judges and fixing elections and basically making the world impossible to live in. But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. So here are three fun and super-simple questions to help you decide if that gift you just got is really a gift or a bribe. Happiness, engage!
Is The Gift Standard for Your Industry? Vendors will often take potential clients out to dinner, and Companies will often fly prospective employees to on-site interviews; and nobody thinks twice about that. If the thing you’re being offered is normal for your industry, then there’s a good chance it’s OK. After all, if everybody else jumped off the bridge, you probably would too!
Is the ‘Gift’ Absurdly Exotic? The problem with the above question is that some ‘standard’ gifts are so expensive that it’s virtually impossible to trust the person giving it to you. Pretty much all of us can be bought, which is why Fear Factor exists as a show. So remember, kids – if anyone offers to bioengineer a Tyrannosaurus Rex of your very own, don’t get in the car.
Is the ‘Gift’ Designed to Get You to Do Something You Know You Shouldn’t Do? And here’s the real question. The others are pretty obvious; a free dinner is normal, and a free speedboat is probably suspect – which is unfortunate, by the way, because I could totally use a new speedboat to replace the speedboat I don’t currently own. But gifts that are attached to an expectation that you perform a certain action are almost certainly unethical. The question I wanted to put here was, “Does the gift feel like a bribe?” But then I thought that I sure wouldn’t feel bribed if I were driving my new speedboat, so I came up with a better one. Sorry, guys.
I hope that wasn’t too horribly painful. And basically all this boils down to is: if you’re going to accept a bribe, make sure it’s big enough that you can live comfortably on it after you get caught and fired. So if you’re expecting me to accept a free trip to Vegas for the weekend to streamline the process of getting your latest experimental medication approved, you can just keep on walking. If, however, you’re bringing me a suitcase filled with $247 million in non-sequential bills, I’ll probably at least hear you out.
Do you think your company could benefit from more ethics lessons like these? Check out my ethics video training series.