Ethics and Trust: Interview with Dr. Robert Hoyk

A few months ago I received a publicist’s offer to review a book. I usually take a quick look, but I almost always say no. This case was different.

The book is The Ethical Executive: Becoming Aware of the Root Causes of Unethical Behavior, by Dr. Robert Hoyk and Paul Hersey, and the title was good enough for me to take the review copy.

What grabbed me was their idea that ethics is usually considered a philosophical issue, but the management application of ethics is largely a matter of psychology. The Ethical Executive lists 45 psychological Traps that drive people to behave unethically.

Following is an interview with author Dr. Robert Hoyk:

CHG: First, you have three categories of Traps—Primary, Defensive, and Personality. Can you explain them?

RH: Primary Traps directly drive people to behave unethically. These are the main traps that pull us in, that provoke us or trick us into illegal or unethical transgression.
An example of a Primary Trap is Power. The more the powerholder uses his power, the more he attributes the successes of his employees to his own leadership (“My orders and influence caused the workers to perform effectively”); Over time, the more the powerholder attributes the success of his employees to his own leadership, the more he begins to devalue his employees. (“It was my success! Not theirs! They were just following orders.”)

Defensive Traps are attempts to find easy ways to reverse course after a transgression has already been committed. They are reactions to two internal stimuli: guilt and shame. Guilt and especially shame are very painful emotions. They call into question the positive view we have of ourselves.
Defensive Traps are insidious because they annihilate or at least minimize √ our guilt and shame. They help us deny our transgressions, thus setting us up for repeated unethical behavior.

An example of a Defensive Trap is Advantageous Comparison. Advantageous Comparison allows the individual who has committed an unethical transgression to lessen his guilt by comparing what he has done to something worse. For example, “Damaging some property is no big deal when you consider that others are beating people up.”
Personality Traps are personal traits that can make us more vulnerable to wrongdoing.

An example is Social Dominance Orientation (SDO). SDO is a trait that delineates one’s “preference for inequality among social groups.” It is the wish that the groups and organizations you belong to (business teams, corporation, social class, gender, ethnicity, country, and so on) be “superior” and “dominate.” SDO can be measured by a questionnaire that has been developed by Felicia Pratto and her colleagues at Stanford University.

CHG: What makes your approach to ethics different from others? What does this psychological approach reveal that other approaches might not?

RH: Most approaches to ethics are philosophical. Philosophical ethics is important because it tells us what the right action is given different situations. But there’s a problem. Even if we know what the right thing to do is, we often don’t do it. Why? We often fall prey to psychological traps. Morality will improve to a great extent when ethics is integrated with psychology. Ethics will continue its crucial job of advising us what the right behavior is and psychology will motivate us to do the right thing and help us stop our transgressions.

CHG: In philosophy, this is what’s called the problem of incontinence: how to explain knowing the right thing to do, yet not doing it.

RH: The Ethical Executive places a major focus on the root causes of unethical behavior—psychological dynamics. It inaugurates a new priority in the field that will lead to a clearer vista and fresh solutions.

CHG: I’m not sure I agree with the word ‘cause’ here; but I surely agree it helps drive practical actions.

RH: In that vein, here’s a quote from author Anthony Parinello:

"This book will not teach you how to be ethical, it will educate you to recognize the day-to-day ethical traps that we all face, analyze them and give the practical, usable information you need to respond in a way that supports good intention, fair decisions, and abundant wealth.”

CHG: Your book came out in September 2008, before the latest flood of unethical behavior, largely in the financial sector. If you were to rewrite the book with this most recent data, what primary patterns would we see revealed?

RH: The 45 traps in The Ethical Executive are universal and timeless. We might have used different examples, but the traps would be the same. Having said that, we believe there are still more traps to discover.

Type A Personality may be such a trap. A Type A Personality is “characterized by a continuously harrying sense of time urgency.” This trait activates Trap 15: Time Pressure. People who are running a hundred miles per hour take short cuts when it comes to taking the time to make good ethical decisions and even to be aware that there might be a potential ethical dilemma.

CHG: How can executives and employees protect their organizations and themselves from these traps?

RH: First, know the 45 traps. Voyagers who know the location of quicksand navigate around it. When we clearly identify danger, we can prepare for it and avoid it.
Second, hire a psychologist to be part of the ethics and compliance team. Many of the traps incite powerful emotions that in turn pull victims toward wrongdoing. In general, emotions provoked by traps are: fear, anxiety, distress, shame, anger and sadness. Emotions this strong can bring us all to our knees. Moreover, be wary, we all have the capacity to shut down our emotions. If we don’t feel anything, it doesn’t always mean our emotions are gone. A psychologist can assist executives and employees deal with their intense emotions.

CHG: What does all this have to do with trust?

RH: In general, an ethical behavior is an action that engenders trust. It is a behavior that, as much as possible, creates non-zero-sum situations.
These two terms, non-zero-sum and zero-sum are taken from game theory. In zero-sum situations, the outcomes of those involved are “inversely related.” One person’s benefit “is the other’s loss.” In competitive sports, when one football team wins the other loses.

CHG: Ethical relationships are inherently relational; Robinson Crusoe had no need of ethics, at least before Friday.

RH: In non-zero-sum situations, one group’s win doesn’t have to be a misfortune for the other. The more that the needs of all parties are identical, the more you have a non-zero-sum situation. When the Apollo astronauts were marooned in space in 1970, their needs completely overlapped. The results of their actions to get back home would be either uniformly good or bad for all three of them.

Overall, ethical actions drive non-zero-sum interactions, which create more shared benefit and mutual trust.

CHG: And overall, greater economic benefit as well.  Dr. Hoyk, thanks very much for taking the time to share your thinking with us.
 

8 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    RH: "Voyagers who know the location of quicksand navigate around it. When we clearly identify danger, we can prepare for it and avoid it….we all have the capacity to shut down our emotions. If we don’t feel anything, it doesn’t always mean our emotions are gone."

    me: only to have emotions arise again and again, never having explored and dealt with them. When we bury emotions, we bury them alive. They will return – always.

    RH: "hire psychologists to be part of the ethics and compliance team."

    me: for any team. Most workplace "personality" and "values" issues can hardly ever be effectively dealt with from a "mental" (even a cognitive psychological) approach alone.

    RH: A psychologist can assist executives and employees deal with their intense emotions.

    me: in the final analysis it comes down to ego, how one’s ego is formed and how it unconsciously interferes and gets in the way of allowing one’s True, Authentic Self to operate. An effective psychologist can bring ego issues to the light of day.

    What’s curious to me is the 2008 date. This book is two (will be three) years old but it seldom appears in conversations. Why? My take is that folks love the safe, technology"-type approaches (e.g., three steps, two matrices, four tactics…and stay at arm’s  length from looking at themselves) to "things personal" but not the deeper, (discomfort, fear-provoking, deeply honest) psychological approaches.

    Until or unless "root cause" analysis is used to look at dysfunctional issues, dysfunction will continue.

    FInally,

    RH: "Ethics will continue its crucial job of advising us what the right behavior is and psychology will motivate us to do the right thing and help us stop our transgressions."

    me: Psychology can’t motivate. Some psychology can help us understand, really, really understand why we behave the way we do, why we behave inappropriately, in a defended manner, and then we can make up our own mind as to whether we choose to change, or not.

    Sometimes, for some folks, the reward for doing the right thing doesn’t have the same appeal as doing the wrong thing….even when we have that deeper understanding. Understanding (self-awareness that comes with a psychological approach) is but the first step to change.  "Do-ing" and "be–ing" then follow and these are not a given.

    A spiritually-based psychological approach can often support one get to the root cause of self-defeating and self-limiting behavior by bringing one to get in touch with their Essential Self, True Self, their Source, the place from where one is often able to understand and move through the spiritual barriers (not only "psychlogical" barriers) that heretofore kept one stuck in their ego self.

    The zero-sum approach, IMHO, necessitates an understanding of the interconnectivity of all beings, a spiritual (not only psychological) understanding. There are some psychologists that can’t or won’t grasp this concept.

    So, there’s psychology, and there’s psychology.

    But, for me, the premise obtains…that a psychologcal approach is a must-have.

    Reply
  2. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Clarification:

    I suggested, "The zero-sum approach, IMHO, necessitates an understanding of the interconnectivity of all beings, a spiritual (not only psychological) understanding. There are some psychologists that can’t or won’t grasp this concept.

    Should read, "A win-win" approach (vs. zero-sum)…

    Reply
  3. barbara garabedian
    barbara garabedian says:

    Charlie, I enjoyed the interview; I’m looking forward to reading the book.  The correlation between Ethics, Trust & Executives has been the absent “elephant in the parlor” in many ethics programs offered by organizations (that’s assuming ethics is offered at all). To “add insult to injury”,  very few organizations have leadership and management development programs that dare to do more than scratch the surface in this regard. The reality is that if an ethics program is "on the books", it’s usually more about compliance and risk mitigation.

    All that said I was surprised to read his suggestion to hire a psychologist to be part of the ethics and compliance team. Somehow, I just can’t imagine suggesting a "touchy/feely" person (which is how a psychologist would be perceived) on this team. Call me cynical but just how deafening do you think the snickering would be??? 

     

    Reply
  4. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    I hear Barbara’s reference to the characterization – "touchy-feely" – from time to time in my work, usually at the outset when they wonder who I am, what I do, how I do it and why I do it..

    However, consider: A psychologist is: interested in human behavior, scary, works with organizations, explores attitudes and behavior, a counselor, supports self-awareness, facilitates groups, "touchy-feely," helps people actualize their potential, empathic towards others, threatening, thoughtful, mindful, heartfelt, insightful, compassionate….

    Since no one is born with an innate definition of what a psychologist is, then an interesting question, for me, is not how do I characterize a psychologist, but why I choose the characterization I choose.

    So, as for the "touchy-feely" descriptor, (and setting a safe context and container for exploration with someone who chooses this descriptor), I might be curious how one came to attach this label to a psychologist. My experience says that whatever responses ( and we’ll do an inquiry that allows for more than one "reason" – and there is always more than one), the foundation is some flavor of fear. "Fear of what?" is the next step and this exploration, consistently and over time, is one that can lead to what’s underneath one’s "unethical" behavior (in this blog’s scenario).

    In my work, it’s that "fearful" me who engages in unethical behavior…bottom line. The inquiry, exploration and practice to is to consciously consider: why? While I don’t consider "inner work" the sole domain of psychology, I do believe one needs to incorporate psychological tools and techniques to get there. I would guess that a coach (me?), manager, leader, neighbor, or anyone else who uses such tools and techniques would also be labeled by some as "touchy-feely."

    So, it’s not about the profession. It’s about my reactivity and resistance to that person who happens to be a (fill in the blank) who does "inner work."

    That is, it’s about "me," not him or her.

    Reply
  5. barbara garabedian
    barbara garabedian says:

    Peter, I really enjoy your responses.

    Use of the terminology "touch-feely" reflects the  descriptor business that i hear people constantly throw around to describe HR folks (especially) or for that matter, anyone that doesn’t speak in quantitative terms. It is used as a pejorative descriptor, needless to say.

    I have seen a number of business coaches (executive / mentors/psychologists/HR staff/OD  Change consultants, etc) do wonderful work getting clients to "understand" behavior without ever sounding like a psych book (truth in advertising, I’ve done a fair bit of Executive Coaching myself). As with most situations, one has to tread carefully on the approach to take and the terminology to use w/clients. Albeit executive Coaching or Business consulting, nothing turns a business person off a consultant or coach faster than jargon that means absolutely nothing  to them, especially if it sounds like psycho-babble. Most Mgrs just want help to get the job done, not therapy (even if it is therapy that they need). It’s their perception that working w/ a touch-feely consultant like that will not understand their business situation & therefore will get them nowhere. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not – perception is the reality.

     

     

    Reply
  6. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Thanks again to Dr. Hoyk for the interview. 

    In varying ways, both Barbara and Peter have honed in on the most interesting (to me) aspect of Hoyk’s book, namely the use of a psychological approach to ethics.  I’m currently reading another (most excellent) book on the historical philosopical approaches to justice–utilitarianism, libertarianism, Aristotelian, etc. 

    That book is more typical in its approach to ethical issues: it describes the various "oughts" that lead to various "isms" we think of when we think of ethics.  Hoyk’s book is distinctive, in my experience, in its straightforward, simple (not simplistic) approach to what makes people stray.

    There’s a saying in the the treatment of addiction: if you don’t want to get hit by a train, don’t play on the train tracks.  If you’re trying to quit drinking, you might not want to take a job as a bartender.  If you’re a highway designer, you might want to build in speed bumps when approaching critical slow-down areas.  If you’re given to fits of violence, maybe it’s not a great idea to keep loaded guns around your house.  And so on. 

    These are utterly sensible, practical, approaches to designing and intervening in workplace environments.  I don’t think Hoyk is seriously suggesting that doing so will get one in touch with his or her True Self, nor that he’s arguing against doing so.  He’s offering some real-world concrete actions that can be taken to reduce unethical behavior.  It’s true that helping people find their innermost fears will keep them from doing all kinds of bad things; but that doesn’t mean the murder rate can’t be cut by better lighting, more cops, and employment opportunities.

    I fear that Barbara is perfectly right.  As an empirical observation, I think most employees in most companies indeed view psychologists as "shrinks," and would have exactly the reaction that Barbara imagines to their inclusion on an ethics and compliance team.

    And Peter’s also quite right in saying this is probably a fear-based characterization.  But there it is, nonetheless. 

    The challenge to me that Hoyk is presenting management is to say, "so what, it makes a lot of sense–we’re going to do it. Do a sweep of our practices and procedures like we’d ask a safety expert to look at our manufacturing processes." 

    You don’t need the consent of the driver to add speed bumps to the highway; there was a reason people were asked to check their guns at the bar in the Old West; and there’s a reason we put lights and crossbars before grade crossings in the railroad.  These are simple things that can be done to reduce the temptations to unethical behavior that so frequently present themselves to the imperfect beings we all are.

     

     

     

    Reply
  7. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Barbara and Charlie,

    I agree with you. Treading carefully is important. And, for me, gaining one’s trust and providing a safe container for folks to open up, be honest and disclose is the most important factor. It can take time, and it’s eminently do-able. Supporting one to let go of one’s defenses is tricky stuff. Too, it’s eminently do-able.

    And, yes, language is important. People initially respond to me with some flavor of "What?!" but when I have the opportunity to explain my process, support it with a few case studies and relate the "work" to performance, productivity, profit and relationships, it’s not so daunting. Their perception can and does change. 

    As for Charlie’s comment, "It’s true that helping people find their innermost fears will keep them from doing all kinds of bad things; but that doesn’t mean the murder rate can’t be cut by better lighting, more cops, and employment opportunities." True, but that does not reduce or eliminate the tendency of one who is prone to violence or murder, and when the opportunity presents itself, what then? There are only so many street lights, jobs and cops.

    Good stuff.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] To read the complete interview and learn more about Charles Green, please click here. […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.