Many people believe that upbringing establishes our ethical values, which are pretty much fixed by a certain age. But some experts say we can train ourselves to be more ethical. This was a pleasant surprise to me, a happy and hopeful thought.
I was even more pleased to read that the training methods used by an ethics training organization called Courageous Leadership are similar to those I use to train people to communicate more effectively and build consensus. We both give trainees hands-on practice in hypothetical situations. Just as in tennis or any other sport, actual practice is essential for assimilating and maintaining skill.
For ethics, the hypothetical might involve deciding whether or not to blow the whistle on financial wrongdoing within one’s company. In my consensus and communication trainings, hypotheticals include requesting a revised work schedule from a supervisor, delivering bad news, negotiating a lease, and resolving a dispute between neighbors, among others.
My consensus and communication trainees plan what they’ll say and how they’ll phrase it. Then, they actually practice the conversation with a partner. And so do Courageous Leadership’s ethics trainees. That’s what makes the training stick when the trainees face a real-life situation
Skills I teach can enhance ethics practice. For example, assessing Walkaway Alternatives (see Love on the Rocks with a Twist, pp. 5-7) helps deal with concerns about whistle-blowing. “Pushing the pause button” and the “but out” technique (see Part III of Bridges to Consensus), refine the words an ethics trainee uses to blow that whistle.
A few weeks ago, I faced, not a hypothetical, but a real-life decision whether or not to report a young woman in a dodgy situation at the theater. Now I know that making that decision and acting on it actually strengthened my ethical muscles. I’ll tell you more about that experience in my next post.
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 “The Morality Workout,” O, the Oprah Magazine, Nov. 2014, p. 79