"What Should I Do?"

Twelve Key Questions to Ask for Making Ethical Business Decisions

Joel Saltzman


NOTE: This is a two-page "Tip Sheet" only. For a longer, more complete article, see: "What Should I Do? (UNABRIDGED)"

1. Should I stop and think things over?
Yes. As a rule, ethical business dilemmas do not need to be solved on the spot. STOP. Give yourself the time you need to think things over. The expression,
"Let me get back to you on that." will often save you from making a bad decision.

2. Does my proposed behavior pass the Creative Thinker Test?
The moment you find yourself thinking, Either I do X, or I do Y, STOP.
Ask yourself, "What are some OTHER ways to solve this problem?"

3. How would I feel if someone treated ME this way?
The Golden Rule: If you'd feel hurt, cheated, lied to, taken advantage of, under-appreciated, abused or treated unfairly, DON'T take the action. If you'd feel unfairly deprived of freedom or opportunity, DON'T take the action.

4. Am I keeping my word?
Are you and your company keeping your word, or failing to honor your commitment -- to a handshake deal, an offer of employment, or other obligation?
This includes "keeping your word" to pay for goods and services -- even if you never received a bill (or received a bill for a lower amount than you actually owe).

5. Is it legal?
If it's not legal, it's not ethical, not according to the laws of our land. Are there exceptions? Most definitely. But for the overwhelming majority of everyday ethical business dilemmas, If it's not legal, it's not ethical. Period. If it is legal:

a) The law may require you to do X. But is there an "ethical" obligation to do MORE than the law requires? Conversely...

b) If you have the legal right or authority to do something, consider the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: "Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do, and what is the right thing to do."

Ethical people do "more than the law requires and less than the law allows."

6. Where can I turn for sound advice?
Does your industry have a set of ethical guidelines you can consult? Does your company have a Code of Ethics document? Is there a supervisor, minister or rabbi you can turn to - someone who can offer you guidance and support?

7. Does it pass the "Anything Up Anyone's Sleeve?" Test?

Anything up MY sleeve? If you were on the other side of the table, is there anything else you'd want to know that might negatively impact your decision to go ahead -- either through omission (failing to reveal an important fact) or misrepresentation (a fancy word for "lying.")

Anything up HIS sleeve? Are you considering doing business with someone whose ethical standards you suspect are lacking? If the answer is yes, trust your gut. Remember: He that lies with the dogs, riseth with the fleas.

8. Does it pass the "What Works Best?" Tests?

Short-term vs. Long-term Are you thinking about "cutting a corner" (either legally or ethically) to make a quick buck? What works best (both ethically and bottom-line wise)? Placing long-term goals over short-term gains.

Loyalty vs. Truth Are you placing loyalty (to your boss, coworkers or your company) over telling or revealing the truth? What works best? Placing truth above loyalty. (Even if your loyalty is to the President of your company.)

Self vs. Community Playing your stereo too loud? Cluttering the sidewalk with overspill from your store? That's placing your needs above community needs.

Justice vs. Mercy The law may permit you to serve on summons on someone in the hospital with a serious illness - even on Christmas Eve! ... But is it right?

9. Does it pass the Mummy, Tummy and Headline Test?
If your mother found out what you planned to do, would she approve or give you a scolding? If your tummy acts up or your nerves are so jangled you lose one or more nights of sleep, consider your unrest a Warning Bell of the highest order.
If the action you're considering appeared as a headline in tomorrow's paper - BOB SMITH DOES X! - would it make you feel proud, or downright ashamed?

10. Would my action (or inaction) align with community standards, or risk doing harm to my business or community?

11. Would my action (or inaction) improve or diminish the health, safety or well-being of my workers, business or community?

12. If there's an impact BEYOND my community, is it positive or negative?

Bonus Question: What if EVERYONE did it? Often, this question can turn you around 180-degrees. From What's the big deal? to That WOULD be a big deal!

Remember: This is a two-page "Tip Sheet" only. For a longer, more complete article, see: "What Should I Do? (UNABRIDGED)"

Joel Saltzman is a speaker, facilitator and consultant who teaches people in business to
Shake That Brain!® and discover solutions for maximum profit. Most recently, he's the author of "Shake That Brain!" (Wiley, 2006).

877-Shake It! (877-742-5348)