Last April the Professional Consultant’s Association of Central New York had a presentation on the topic of ethics presented by Arnie Poltensen, and it was a pretty powerful conversation. On the surface, everyone seems to have the same personal ethics, and yet once the discussions began, we started to realize that based on background and history and experiences not everyone sees those ethics in the same way.

That Way
Creative Commons License Justin Baeder via Compfight

Arnie began by asking three good questions:

1. Why is something private?

2. Is it legal?

3. Would you mind seeing it on the 6PM News?

The one point all of the consultants in the room agreed with was the last one. The other two turned out to be interesting because there are certain things that occur every day that are supposedly business related that some people feel should be illegal while others believed they were valid business models, even if it wasn’t something they themselves would do. And the question of what’s private and what isn’t led to the types of debates that often happen in social media forums, usually broken down by generational beliefs.

Arnie also talked about the ethics of contracts and information by stating “The minute you write something down things get complicated.” Every person that goes into business hears the famous words uttered by Judge Judy: “If it’s not written down it didn’t happen.” Yet, even the simplest of contracts can cause distress depending on how each side interprets things, and longer contracts always cause consternation by one party or the other. We’re past the days where ethics decided things based on a handshake, and yet things didn’t get easier.

Another question that came up was “how do you help someone work out their issues while not only recognizing your limitations but theirs?” This becomes an ethical discussion because as a consultant your goal is to help a client solve their issues, no matter what they are. But sometimes the client’s perception is different than yours, or the client isn’t up to what you’re going to give them. Is it ethical to give a client what they asked for when you know it’s not what they need, even if they want to argue with you about it? Is it ethical to give a client more than they’re ready to deal with, such as a complicated computer program where they’ll never use more than 95% of it, because it makes you more money?

Logically Arnie ended with a phrase that transcends business, one that many of us use often: “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” This action often supersedes most problems that might arise in life, and is a great start to an ethical base that, unfortunately, can be more complicated than we’d like.

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