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Toughest Ethical Decision you faced and how you handled it

What was the toughest ethical decision you have faced? How did you handle it, and why? What did you learn?

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Question asked by devi_ghimire

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angel profile image
Angel Paudel

Life is always about making hard choices. And, with people always considering oneself and the people around them at the forefront, maintaining ethics is difficult as well. Thinking about the toughest ethical decision takes me back about a year ago when I had got an offer to join ICIMOD. The offer wasn’t that compelling for me but the opportunity it presented was certainly something that drove me to wonder what next.

My ethical decision doesn’t involve any other person but two different organization and my mental fight/thought process around it. At that time of receiving the offer, I was with Imagine Designs supervising three different teams, one of which was working on the biggest project of all time for the company. The project was close to completion with ETA for it to be delivered being under 2-months. The offer from ICIMOD required me to get back instantly. However, it won’t be correct of me to leave a vital project of the company near completion as someone else coming in need to be fully educated about the project and way around by which time the project deadline would already cross. This got me thinking.

On one hand, I had a job which was paying me very well and providing me a lot of leadership exposure while the other one had presented a good networking opportunity and a platform to learn how a multi-national organization functions.

I got in consultation with my family member, current colleagues and even John himself (Head of Operations at Imagine). I took the feedback I received from them all. I used that as a base but used my own logic to compose an email back to ICIMOD stating clearly of my current situation and me only being able to join after 2-month from the current date. I didn’t receive back an email for around a week. It came soon after and the email provided a new joining date which was in accordance with my requirement. That just made the decision much simpler with me being able to complete the current ongoing project while also passing on my knowledge on the other projects to my colleagues at the similar role to take anything forward.

From the entire experience, what I learned is that such instances come often in ways we might not have expected. Some of these also have implication on other person’s life making the decision even harder to make (Williams, 2008). It is always important to know your ground reality and not divert much for your values and beliefs. As these decisions will shape up your behavior and your decisions moving ahead (Hagberg, 2015). I holding my ground and thinking of the organization am currently with ensuring that my move won’t hamper them as much as possible is something that I truly believed in. And, that ensured that the organization could deliver their project on time and had a smooth transaction as well. It all worked out very well. This is something I always try to take with me moving forward which is to think from the brains and not just from the heart as much as possible.


Hagberg, G. (2015). On the Ground of Ethical Criticism. Philosophy And Literature , 39 (1A), 5-6.

Williams, N. (2008). New ethical grounds. Current Biology , 18 (12), 497.

ncitujjwal profile image

Two years ago, I was a teacher for Shree Gothhbhanjyang Higher Secondary School at Dalchoki. I teach mathematics for grade 7 to grade 10 students. I always motivated them for studying, playing and doing new activities. The school is situated on top of the hill and there is not enough space for playground. There is only small volleyball playground inside the school. Our school always started from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. At that time students were busing for studying. After finished their class we always played a volleyball game 4:00 PM to 5:00PM. The main aim of this game was to create a good relation with community people and students. So that we could push them. We always played volleyball game after school time.

Suddenly one day one of the existing Mathematics teacher caught the ball and asked them to go home on time. He said that "you are wasting your study time here so you never submit your home”. Immediately I went there and requested him for ball to continue the game. But he didn’t give ball to us. Then we stopped our game. After that I stayed with my students and convince them for doing home regularly so that only we can play the game. After that, I also talked with him (teacher), but he blamed me that "you damaged our children future. They are only motivating in playing not in studying so we faced many problem inside the class so please stop these activity inside school”. And I also asked him "playing is right of students so they can complain about the issue in related stakeholder, you might be faced a problem. That was my one of the biggest ethical dilemma in my professional life. Them I talked with him almost 2 hour then we came up with the solution. Now, we can play a game in the school at 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM but students should submit their homework regularly. Then I called there all of my students and tell them about the clause and they promised me to do homework regularly. Then we played volleyball continuously.

I have learned a lot from there, first I have learned convincing and negotiation skill. In there I talked more time with existing teacher at the end I was able to convince him. Second when any ethical issue arises in our workplace then first we clearly understand the problem and think deeper and handle it positively. The third one is when you realized the one thing is complement for your best thing then never back then you must do both the activities easily. In here the homework is complement of volleyball, if they don’t do homework then we can’t play a game so that they did their duty responsibly. The last is Negotiation is only possible for both win - win situation, in here if we tried to play game forcefully without doing home then there might be big problem so we compromised for homework and he compromised for game. So that last message for all is when analyze, understand, negotiation and compromise are only can solve the serious ethical issue in business or other sector. Negation skill, convincing power, deeper analysis on problem definitely solve ethical dilemma in our professional life (Desjardins, 2009).


Desjardins, J. (2009). An Introduction to Business Ethics. New York: McGraw - Hill .

shantamilan profile image

When there is no clear right or wrong, making decision is difficult. "Ethical Decision Making and the Entrepreneur - addresses the complex and thorny issues of ethics and integrity for the entrepreneur, and how those decisions and choices can have a significant impact on future success (Spinelli, Jr. & Adams).” This is where ethics comes into play. Ethical decision making thus is the process of taking the moral high road which is based on the truth. "Truth can be a subjective character: one man’s truth may be different from another’s but vital to both. Start with the truth (Fisher, 2005).”

Ethical decision making is a daunting task when you have been in an organization for a long time and the relationship that have developed with the staffs are more family oriented rather than just colleagues. Recently I had to report a misconduct by a superior staff who used to spend on beverages at the office sites with partner staffs and share the cost as office expense. Being brought up in a moral way, these acts, though trifle in nature, still did not register well with me as there had been announcement on behalf of such activities even by the executive director.

The practice has been going on for so long that it is accepted by many and turn the other side. I raised this topic to the executives a while back and warning were issued to the supervisors. It was something that I just couldn’t come to terms with.

The incident has changed the relation between me and the superior but I have a clear conscience. It has also put other staffs at an alert and has helped them also to be vocal about such activities.

What I learned

It is a scary and difficult thing to stand up to what is wrong when you are facing ethical decision which usually involved people who are in superior position. It is however in the best interest of the organization and yourself as an individual to grow. Setting such principles keeps you focused and helps you face similar situation in the future as well. Taking such decisions also unconsciously give power to other people to do the same.


Fisher, K. (2005). Ethical decision making. Retrieved from NACADA: Clearinghouse logo: nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearingh...

Spinelli, Jr., S., & Adams, R. (n.d.). New Venture Creation . New York City: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

dipadhungana profile image

There is not any perfect approach to deal with ethically charged situation. The decision that may be ethical for one person may be unethical for someone else (Spinelli & Adams). For example: If a soldier kills a terrorist, it is ethical for him as he is saving the life of hundreds of people affected by that one person. On the other hand, others may think it is unethical to kill anyone.

Talking about my personal experience regarding a tough situation involving ethical decision, it was when I used to work as an assistant accountant in one of the colleges. I was responsible to close the day to day accounting transactions and report it to the senior accountant. I was appointed there during the exam time. At that time, the account department used to be overcrowded by the students to clear their dues and it was one of the busiest time for the people working in the particular department.

After a week of joining there, while closing the daily transactions, I found out there was Rs.10,000 more than the balance I calculated. I re-checked all the receipts, confirmed all entries and counted the cash several times to adjust the excess amount. But no matter how many times I checked, there was Rs.10,000 more than in the book record. Then arouse the doubt whether to tell the senior accountant about that or use the money for my own use as there was no one around me. For a time being, I thought of keeping the money myself as no one would know about it. But later on, I decided to tell the concerned authority about it as my values did not let me keep that amount. So, I went to the college authority and handed them the extra amount.

The next day, I found out that it was an intentional move from the Principal of the college to test my aptitude. It was because I was appointed there on referral basis without going through any of the selection process and they wanted to make sure that I was right person for the job. From this incident, I learnt that no matter what the situation is we need to stand true to our values and practice being ethical. If I have taken the money, I would have surely lost the job and created a negative image of myself among so many people. In addition, I would have lost the trust of my teacher who taught me for thirteen years and recommended me for that job. I might have enjoyed the short term benefit by being unethical but in the long run, the small act would have destroyed my reputation and career.

Spinelli, S., & Adams, R. J. (n.d.). New Venture Creation: Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century (Nineth ed.). Irwin: McGraw Hill Education.