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Conflict Arising Out of Different Attitudes to Ethics


Conflict Arising Out of Different Attitudes to Ethics

Culture is a factor that influences managerial ethics. When managers are required to take an ethical stand, that stand may be difficult to explain to a person who does not subscribe to the same ethical viewpoint. When managers are placed in a situation where they have to act, but are divided on what action should be taken because of ethical differences, the result can well be a conflict. If the opposing ethical views stem from differences in culture, the resulting conflict can lead to divides along cultural lines.

This example is used in some business school courses on intercultural management. You are a passenger in a car being driven by your close friend. The friend hits a pedestrian by driving at 35 kilometres per hour in a zone with a speed limit of 20 kilometres per hour. There are no witnesses. A lawyer tells you that if you state that your friend had not exceeded the speed limit, he can escape serious consequences. Would you (a) testify that your friend was driving at 20 kilometres per hour, or (b) testify that your friend was driving at 35 kilometres per hour?

It is often found that the responses to this question are culturally influenced. Students from the same culture tend to react from the same ethical position. They do not find common ground with students from other cultures. Including the following add-on conditions can intensify the conflict that has been artificially generated in class:

  • You must answer positively either (a) or (b), and cannot say (a), but..., or (b), but...

  • Your friend was not driving at 35 kilometres per hour, but at 40 kilometres per hour: that is, at twice the speed limit.

  • The pedestrian was also your friend.

  • The pedestrian will make a complete recovery.

  • The accident was the pedestrian's fault.

  • You have also driven above the speed limit.

  • Your friend has a tendency to drive above the speed limit.

  • Your friend was driving at 60 kilometres per hour in the 20 kilo-metres per hour zone.

  • The pedestrian was disabled for life.

  • The pedestrian was young, attractive, successful and disabled for life.

Ethical bases and perspectives on management

According to one perspective on management, the purpose of an organization is to achieve goals and objectives, using resources efficiently. Employees receive a reward for their contribution to the organization. The diametrically opposite perspective is that organizations are above all a collection of people. The needs and concerns of these people have to be taken into account. Otherwise, organizational life becomes meaningless. The first perspective avers that the system is paramount. The latter perspective emphasizes the importance of relationships.

Given the car example, managers who would have testified for their friend were supporting the management perspective that emphasizes the importance of relationships. On the other hand, those managers in favour of telling the truth supported the management perspective that systems should be paramount. In a simple, preliminary survey conducted by a business school in 2001, it was found that:

  • In the United States, 93 per cent claimed that they would tell the truth.

  • In Canada 93 per cent claimed that they would tell the truth.

  • In Australia, 91 per cent would have told the truth.

  • In the UK 91 per cent would have told the truth.

  • In Venezuela, 67 per cent claimed that they would testify in favour of their friend.

The business school that conducted the survey notes that the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom are cultures that uphold the management paradigm that systems are paramount. By contrast, Venezuela is a culture that emphasizes the importance of relationships. When a Venezuelan manager and a US manager have to work together on a matter that has ethical ramifications, they may assume opposite positions, resulting in a conflict between them


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