My Ethics and their Ego

Is that a question? Should this be in opposition? Or even compared? All of us may not share the same values, yet I believe, from a Western world perspective at least, we all know the right from the not-so-right. The question lies in the manner a situation is approached, and depends on how well we know the audience.

Recently, in a casual conversation, an acquaintance of mine related some business hiccups of his: over the years, in spite of his confidence that every investor he had met wanted to work with him, he was back to court to fight for what he thinks he deserves. I am not familiar with all the details, and his speech on lacking ethics in his business field encouraged me in keeping quiet. I shared my surprise about the absence of ethics in business (his or any other one), and dared to confess I believe in Karma: if I do business with bad/wrong/negative intentions (i.e. hurting others, whether they be my partners, clients or suppliers), it will bite back. Right away, he reacted, apparently feeling reproved of, and asked me if I believed he had a bad Karma. How could I know? The only trait I gathered from this short conversation was more about his ego than anything else.

Earlier today, my ethics were challenged to another level. I admit I am not a big fan of hockey, and yes, the Canucks are in the playoffs, and I know it is a big deal. A potential supplier offered me tickets to the first playoffs game. What did I do? I, unenthusiastically, passed them on to my client. I may be assisting in their procurement process, those tickets cannot be mine, regardless of my client’s gift policy (or ego). Goods poorly gotten never profit. So much for icy air by the rink…

Ethics refer to standards and codes of behaviour applied within a group, or a social system: any professional environment is a good example. Ethics share a fine line with morals too, understanding morality falls into the personal conscience (like an isolated bubble) and calls for deciding if an action is good or bad. Being ethical implies “doing the right thing” when the consequences of such decision are impacted by, and impact, external factors (a peer group, for instance). Now, how much do I conform to either category? I guess it is about the freedom to think and choose how to conduct my life and show how my ethics relate to the morals of my project’s stakeholders.

Despite my good intentions, if my client shows an over-dimensioned ego, I will have to adjust and re-gauge my way of presenting my suggestions. And it is fine. Although, with time, I have learned how to assess early in the negotiation prior to signing a contract, and detect whether our definitions of “ethical behaviour” were matching. That has saved me from banging my values against some morals I later questioned. I am talking business here, although, I honestly believe it surely looks identical outside of the professional circle.

Providing a service to a client is not just about pleasing her/him: it is about sharing a knowledge adapted to the specific parameters, and being honest about the solutions. I want to do good, and that includes doing good, and offering adequate advices to my clients. I can do that in a pleasant manner: it does not mean we must agree on everything all the time. Discussions, with good intentions, often promote healthy debates, and project management becomes inspiring and constructive. I have noticed that such reasoning has boosted mutual respect, and, in some cases, lessened some “self-pumped” egos too. And who knows, that could even be worth some hockey tickets… later.