Moral disengagement: How to know if someone is going to act unethically
In my last article How to predict unethical behaviour I looked at research that showed:
- The 2 primary predictors of unethical behaviour, and
- The 3 precursors of moral disengagement
Today we are going to have a look at what the research says about the actual process people have to undergo to morally detach themselves from their decisions in order to act unethically.
No O.R.? No View
If you recall from my last article we talked about the process of moral disengagement that has to occur before most people (psychopaths excluded) can engage in unethical behaviour. This means that they have to detach or separate themselves from the decisions they are about to make. In order to do this the research has found that a number of conditions need to be present.
In effect the conditions have to be right inside the person and they are likely to have:
- Lower level of self-awareness and reflection.
- Lower levels of what is known as self-organisation or congruency.
- Lastly that the individual has reduced levels of ability to regulate their own emotions and behaviour.
It has been found that in order for people to engage in unethical behaviours such as unfair practices, cheating, manipulating data, bullying etc. they first have to rationalise or disengage from their own moral compass or standards and those of society in general in a process known as moral disengagement.
The process of moral disengagement
The process by which people become morally disengaged is fairly well understood these days. Moral disengagement is usually a four stage process whereby the individual:
- Firstly has to mentally reconstruct or tell themselves a story or context where the action or actions being or about to be taken cannot be viewed as being immoral or unethical. This can include recourse to devices like ‘others are doing it’, or ‘it’s not against the law’ for example.
- Secondly they will usually reduce their own sense of importance or agency in the actions. This is usually done by blaming others, the organisation, situation or context as the driver or originator of the actions.
- Next they will fail to see or deny the consequences of the actions being undertaken or their inaction
- Lastly they will need to change how they perceive and regard the victim(s) by either downgrading their status, importance or the effect and impact on them.
This research reports on 2 separate studies conducted by the researchers on 213 and 231 participants in Germany last year.
The first finding
Their first finding was that general moral disengagement is a very strong predictor of unethical behaviour.
- The role and power of a situation to set off the process of moral disengagement,
- The actual process people have to undergo to start to act unethically, and
- The effect authenticity has on this whole process of moral disengagement and the development of unethical behaviour and thinking.