People generally like to think of themselves as inherently good and honest and for the most part this is probably true. However, the majority of people have at some stage in their lives done something that they knew to be wrong, yet their perception of themselves as an upstanding citizen, employee or friend is not challenged by this.
Rationalisation is what allows us to stray from what we know to be right, without needing to reassess how we view ourselves. It is the psychological process of using plausible arguments to validate something that is commonly unacceptable.
If you are only a little bit dishonest, for example you cheat on your time sheet by ten minutes every now and then, this would not generally affect your view of yourself as an honest person. When people learn to rationalise their conduct to a higher degree, then it becomes easier for them to be more dishonest and to still hold a view of themselves as a good and honest person. If you decrease rationalisation you can also decrease dishonesty. But how do you do that? By reinforcing what is good behaviour.
Make it very clear to people where the line between right and wrong is. You then encourage them to choose ‘right’ whilst letting them know that ‘wrong’ will not be tolerated. You must also remove any temptations to do the wrong thing, and create a sense of responsibility to the organisation. Organisations that invest in getting to their people to have moral thoughts about their conduct and to understand what integrity is and why it is so important, will have more success in controlling dishonesty.
This article was published in Issue 3 - November 2015 of ICAC's newsletter.