Sunday, September 23, 2018

What ethical issues do you care about most?


What ethical issues do readers care about most?

Is it how to wrestle with coarse behavior by political leaders? Choosing not to lie when faced with seemingly attractive options?

From time to time, I check the online analytics to see which of the ethics columns I've written receive the most page hits. Given the current political environment, you'd think coarse behavior and choosing whether to lie might make the top viewed columns. But none crack the top of the list.

Granted the assessment is highly unscientific since it's impossible for me to know if a column that is called up is actually read, but by far the top three columns viewed are whether to accept a job offer made by someone who bad mouths colleagues, whether to stop a scavenger from taking returnable cans and bottles from your trash can, and whether companies have an obligation to try to actually help customers in need.

The three columns span 12 years in appearance, with the scavenger piece having run the longest ago (Jan. 29, 2006) and coming in second, the customer service column running five years ago (March 24, 2013) and coming in third, and the bad-mouthing job interviewer piece running two years ago (May 29, 2016) and receiving more than four times as many views as the third-place finisher.

What does this tell me about readers?

For one, it doesn't mean they don't care about other issues since those receive a good number of views as well. But the viewing habit does suggest that readers care the most about ethical issues, which are likely to affect them on a deeply personal basis. Almost all of us have had bad customer service experiences. Many of us have wondered if it was wrong to let scavengers pick from our trash rather than let the city reap any recycling benefits. And few of us have not had to wrestle with how to respond to someone bad mouthing someone we don't know.

Should we care more about political leaders lying to us? Certainly.

Should we be concerned with how honest we are with other people? Of course.

But day to day, we seem to lose sleep over what might seem like petty issues to some. It makes a certain amount of sense that we spend more time worrying about the pressing issues at hand that involve things others are doing to us. We can turn down the job offer from a bad-mouthing interviewer, change cellphone providers, or change the way we dispose of our trash.

We should care as much about our own behavior and whether we choose to lie, of course. And we should care as much about politicians behaving badly. But it's easy to set these issues aside when we need to deal with the trash habits of strangers.

The right thing, however, is to care as much about how we behave and the leaders we choose. Fortunately, it's not an either or situation and we are capable of doing both.

In the meantime, please continue to tell me about the ethical issues you care about most. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Is it OK to use a sales clerk's expertise to make an online purchasing decision?


Readers regularly ask if it is ethically OK to shop at a bricks and mortar store with no intention of buying something if they can find it cheaper online. Their reasoning is that sometimes they like to see and touch the item before ordering it and what better way to do this than to go to a store that has it in stock.

In the past, I've responded that while there is nothing unethical about shopping around for an item -- in both physical and online stores -- you cross a line if you take up salespeople's time and expertise if you never had any intention of making a purchase from them.

Lately, the questions have been coming from retail store salespeople who question the ethics of customers who take up their time when the customer has no intention of buying anything. Especially in a store where salespeople are paid a commission on the specific items they sell, the salespeople suggest, they are distracting them from working with actual potential customers and causing them to risk their livelihood if they spend so much time with customers who have no intention of buying anything rather than those who do.

Granted, it's a risk any salesperson takes when holding a sales job. Some prospective customers just don't end up buying anything. But at least they might have purchased something. What about those who go to a store for the sole purpose of confirming for themselves the purchases they plan to make online?

While I make an effort to support independent retailers in my community, I must confess that unless I want or need an item right away, I often shop around online to find the best price.

But when I go to my local independent hardware store, and Zack spends 20 minutes with me explaining how to carve out a piece of rotted wood from the bottom of a window frame and then walks me through the steps to repairing it along with the materials I'd need to accomplish the task, I feel obliged to buy those materials from Zack's store.

It's not just that Zack came up with a solution that was significantly less expensive than the YouTube tutorial I had previously consulted online. It was mostly because Zack and his co-workers have consistently provided me with solid advice and good service.

I know when I buy from Zack that I can go back to the store and seek further wisdom if I am running into a problem with a project. I can't expect the same level of service if I buy materials online and things don't quite work out.

While it's unlikely that the advice given by sales clerks in a bookshop or a clothing store would result in me having to return for more advice on the same items I purchase, the relationships I build with them based on their time and expertise makes me choose to buy from them.

Don't get me wrong. I still make clothing, book, and hardware purchases online. But if I expect an in-person sales clerk to continue to provide me with their expertise and service, then the right thing is to respect them enough to give them the sale when they take the time to work with me. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


What ethical issues do you care about most?

What ethical issues do readers care about most? Is it how to wrestle with coarse behavior by political leaders? Choosing not to lie ...