How Values Differ from Ethics and Morals

Values, ethics and morals are three clearly different concepts. Ethics are rule-based, externally imposed standards, like those stated in the compliance-oriented framework of business ethics, medical ethics, legal ethics or…professional ethics. Invoking ethics normally calls for examining a situation in light of known models that justify or punish whatever has happened. Studying ethics helps you assess appropriate right-wrong responses, but it doesn’t give you advice or clarity on implementing those choices.

Morals also take a stand on a behaviour’s “rightness or wrongness,” but without regard to how you might feel about the behaviour or the reasons behind it. Like ethics, morals emphasize judgment and discipline more than positive action. Values are attributes all cultures widely share. Ethicist Rushworth Kidder lists “honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness and compassion” as examples.

Keeping your list of values short will make it easier to implement values-driven action. You want to align yourself positively with your highest goals and deepest sense of self, rather than moving against your inner feelings by acting with stern judgment or coercion.

It’s Only Normal

Being faced with an ethical choice often surprises working people, no matter where they’re positioned in the corporate hierarchy. They don’t realize that such occurences are common in business, so they see any ethical dilemma as out of the ordinary and imbue it with too much angst. To act non-emotionally on something you know is right, reframe the issue as a “regular and predictable” part of your job, profession or industry.

  • Prepare to handle such matters by creating and rehearsing a “script” that communicates your beliefs.
  • Craft this response as a natural way to extend your values, so you can speak up without blaming those with whom you disagree. Identify the ethical dilemmas you could face – or might face.
  • Reframe them as group problems, not just your problem.
  • Develop a script with ideas and language you can use with your boss, peers or employees to say “let’s try” to do better rather than implying “thou shalt not.”
  • Honor everyone’s stake in the issue, not just your own.

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