How to predict unethical behaviour - a step-by-step guide

How to predict unethical management behavior

predict unethical behaviour

How to predict unethical behaviour

There are the steps people take before they engage in unethical behaviour and if you know the signs, you can predict it happening. It is better to see the warning signs and take action than wait for it to occur.

This is the first of three posts in which I will review some new research that looks at how to predict unethical behaviour and unpick how unethical behaviour develops.



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In this post I will look at what leads to the development of unethical behaviour.

In my next Tuesday post I will unravel how people set aside normal rules of engagement and start to build a logic to backup their unethical behaviour.

In the last post of this series I will look at some new research which shows step-by-step how people end up developing unethical behaviour

Once you know how to identify the phases you can predict unethical behaviour in your organisation before it happens and do something about it.


Predicting Unethical Behaviour

A paper just published by a team of researchers from universities in the UK, Germany, Austria and Switzerland looked at what the primary factors are in the development of unethical behaviour by managers and leaders. Both unethical behaviour and the tolerance for unethical behaviour is gaining wide recognition as being a primary threat to businesses and organisational health both financially and operationally.

Previous research has shown that part of the problem is that unethical management behaviour can frequently bring short term financial benefits, rewarding and strengthening the behaviours, attitudes and thinking underpinning such behaviours. It has also been recognised that managers who attempt to incorporate and promote more ethical practices that are at odds with the prevailing management culture often face difficulties.



The 2 primary predictors of unethical behaviour

Recent research has focused on two primary predictors of unethical management behaviour:

  1. Moral disengagement and
  2. Situational strength


Moral Disengagement

It has been found that in order for managers 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. Considerable research has been conducted over the last 20-30 years in this area and it has been found that three processes are central to moral disengagement:


The 3 precursors or predictors of moral disengagement

  1. Lower level of self-awareness and reflection.This enables the individual to focus more on the task and achieving the result whilst ignoring any internal chatter or signals that their actions may be at odds with their own or others’ standards.
  2. Lower levels of what is known as self-organisation or congruency. In effect we are more self-organised when all of our systems are congruent and aligned. Moral disengagement requires that the individual reduces this natural self-alignment and started to tolerate lower levels of self-organisation.
  3. Lastly that the individual has reduced levels of ability to regulate their own emotions and behaviour. This includes, but is not confined to, the emotional regulation and emotional intelligence involved in empathy. This makes the individual more volatile and reactive.

In my next post I will look at what the research says about the process that people have to undergo to morally disengage.

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page

  • Kevin says:

    I think a big part of the problem lies in the ‘me first’ attitude so many people have today. From co-workers to managers to employers to the President of the US today, so many people get so upset when someone contradicts them or questions them or suggests another way to do things or something that needs to be changed. How do you think this plays into the moral detachment that has happened so often today?

  • Sarah Jo says:

    I find the concept of situational strength to be very interesting…I would love to know more about this. Does anyone have more information on this concept and how it plays out in real world situations? I would love to see you explore this concept of unethical behaviors and the tendency towards unethical behavior. Dang it, you have given me a lot to go research into now! LOL

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