Most people think they’re ethical. In fact, I’ve never met someone who’s said, “I’m actually pretty deceiving.” Yet, throughout my career, I have faced ethical crossroads – both working with clients and running a business. They are inevitable. As long as people work with people, ethical issues will arise.

That’s the thing about ethical dilemmas. They never announce themselves ahead of time. They don’t come with a how-to guide. But you know them when you face them. That gut reaction. That unsettled feeling. That moment of decision.

So how can you prepare? How do you make sure your response, or how you counsel others to respond, is ethical and right?

Here are four tips for making ethical decisions:

  1. Plan for what’s possible.

    Before an ethical dilemma arises, challenge yourself and your team to anticipate what could happen. Scenario planning is a great exercise for processing how you would approach an ethical situation in a safe, hypothetical situation. Planning incites dialogue and leads to an ethical approach while your mind is clear.

  2. Adopt a code of ethics.

    Many industry organizations have outlined generally accepted ethical standards for their members. Three Box, for example, follows the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Code of Ethics. We share this code with our team members and cite it in all client contracts. Want to know where we stand on a tough issue? We use this vetted and accepted code to guide us.

  3. Consult a trusted community.

    Find a group of professionals that you respect and trust. Some organizations have formal committees to help members make judgement calls under complete confidentiality. For example, PRSA has the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), which includes Three Box Founder Blake Lewis. This is a small group of seasoned professionals who are available for consultation on ethical issues. A sounding board can be extremely useful, especially for seeing through biases and corporate process.

  4. Foster open dialogue.

    Bringing ethical issues to light makes them less controversial and more easily addressed. Everyone should feel comfortable to raise a question without judgement or condemnation. Have open conversations about ethical issues and commit to solving them together. Conquering them as a team can make these decisions less daunting and safer to overcome.

Ethical questions are inevitable. Use these tips to ensure you and your brand are ready to respond appropriately.

September is Ethics Month for all PRSA members. Find other resources and follow the conversation at #EthicsMonth on Twitter.

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