How close we are to our colleagues directly impacts the decisions we make about them.
In life, how close we are to people affects what decisions we make and how we behave.
This idea of “proximity” relates not only to physical nearness but also to being psychologically or socially close.
When we’re close to someone, we’re more likely to make decisions and behave in ways that benefit or avoid harming them.
This happens because being close to someone makes us more likely to see the ethical issues involved in a situation that affects them, so more likely to make ethical judgements and act ethically.
And we need to keep in mind that not all proximities have the same strength of influence. For example, we may be physically close to someone but feel we have nothing in common.
While we need to be aware how proximity may bias us positively towards others, we need to be mindful of what lack of proximity may do as well.
When employees get to know their clients, they are likely to make more ethical decisions towards them.
Similarly, managers that have more information about their employees may be more mindful about the consequences of decisions that affect them.
Having more information not only provides insight into an issue, it may also help us relate more closely to those who will be affected.
It helps us put a face on those who will be affected, therefore making us less likely to dehumanise them.
Think, for example, if you’re about to downsize and make a number of employees unemployed, the amount of information you have about your employees and how much you already interact with them will affect the way you make your decision.
Having more information about someone has been found to improve a person’s ability to identify the ethical content of the issue – and being aware of the ethical issues is the first step to acting ethically.
Proximity may also affect the empathy we feel towards others, which may lead us to be more mindful about the impact of our decisions and actions.
It’s often said that once we get to know people, even those we may have thought were very different, we find they are just like us. And feeling others are just like us helps us engage ethically.
Dr Eva Tsahuridu is CPA Australia’s policy adviser, professional standards and governance
This article is from the October 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.