Moral Sensitivity (also known as moral awareness) refers to your level of awareness of the ethical issues in a given situation, that is, how your actions affect others. Do you always see the ethical dimensions of a situation?
To act morally, a person ‘must have been able to make some sort of interpretation of the particular situation in terms of what actions were possible, who (including oneself) would be affected by each course of action, and how the interested parties would regard such effects on their welfare.’James Rest, 1986,p.3
The McGurk Effect
Our senses are easily tricked. Check out this clip about the McGurk Effect:
If our regular senses can be tricked, so can our moral sense.
The morally sensitive person recognises that things aren’t always as they seem. They are aware of the many psychological biases and organisational and societal pressures that can make an ethically complex situation seem straight-forward.
Everyone is prone to psychological biases; they are not bad in and of themselves. However, not being aware of them can lead to bad choices and outcomes. It’s your personal and professional responsibility to look out for your own biases and other psychological phenomena that can distort the way you see a situation.
The ethical dimensions of a situation aren’t always obvious. Often, you don’t see important features of a situation simply because you are not looking for them. For example; you might be focused on pleasing your boss, engaging customers or getting a pay rise and not pay attention to the ethical aspects around you.
This is called selective attention.
Watch this Selective Attention Test as an example:
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered. The point is to discover them.Galileo Galilei
In business, two specific forms of selective attention are associated with failure to see and respond to the ethical dimensions of a situation. They are:
Moral myopia, a distortion of moral vision that keeps ethical issues from coming clearly into focus.
Ethical fading, the result of self-deception. It is when you act unethically while still believing yourself to be an ethical person. The actual ethical implications of your decision just fade into the background.
It is so easy to focus on keeping the stock price high, on hitting sales quotas, on keeping the boss happy, on fitting in with the team that the ethical dimensions of a decision can simply fade away.Prentice, 2014, p. 346
Whether due to selective attention, ethical fading or moral myopia, all people and organisations are prone to missing the ethical dimensions of a situation.
So how do you make sure you don’t miss them? You need to actively look for them. Actively and continuously scan situations for their ethical dimensions. Think about frameworks and rationalisations of moral sensitivities. Do they help explain and typify this process of ethical judgement? Or even, can these complex decisions be codified and rationalised?
With practice, using frameworks and being conscious of these intuitive moral reasonings will become second nature and the more morally sensitive you will become.