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Making Ethical Decisions: A 7-Step Path

Read these 7 steps to help you make ethical distinctions between competing options when you are faced with a difficult choice.

Making ethical choices requires the ability to make distinctions between competing options. Here are seven steps to help you make better decisions:

  1. Stop and think: This provides several benefits. It prevents rash decisions, prepares us for more thoughtful discernment, and can allow us to mobilize our discipline.
  2. Clarify goals: Before you choose, clarify your short-term and long-term aims. Determine which of your many wants and "don't wants" affected by the decision are the most important. The big danger is that decisions that fullfill immediate wants and needs can prevent the achievement of our more important life goals.
  3. Determine facts: Be sure you have adequate information to support an intelligent choice. To determine the facts, first resolve what you know, then what you need to know. Be prepared for additional information and to verify assumptions and other uncertain information. In addition:
    • Consider the reliability and credibility of the people providing the facts.
    • Consider the basis of the supposed facts. If the person giving you the information says he or she personally heard or saw something, evaluate that person in terms of honesty, accuracy, and memory.
  4. Develop options: Once you know what you want to achieve and have made your best judgment as to the relevant facts, make a list of actions you can take to accomplish your goals. If it's an especially important decision, talk to someone you trust so you can broaden your perspective and think of new choices. If you can think of only one or two choices, you're probably not thinking hard enough.
  5. Consider consequences: Filter your choices to determine if any of your options will violate any core ethical values, and then eliminate any unethical options. Identify who will be affected by the decision and how the decision is likely to affect them.
  6. Choose: Make a decision. If the choice is not immediately clear, try:
    • Talking to people whose judgment you respect.
    • Think of a person of strong character that you know or know of, and ask your self what they would do in your situation.
    • If everyone found out about your decision, would you be proud and comfortable?
    • Follow the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated, and keep your promises.
  7. Monitor and modify: Ethical decision-makers monitor the effects of their choices. If they are not producing the intended results, or are causing additional unintended and undesirable results, they re-assess the situation and make new decisions.
Copyright 2002 Josephson Institute of Ethics