The truth about dishonesty; how bad could you be?

Claire Cater, 27 March, 2015

How do you create the right environment in which good prevails for the benefit of your organisation, people and society?

The first part of this blog asks you to take a few minutes to watch this brilliant RSA animation:

The second asks you to consider three questions:

  1. Do you think of people as simply good or bad? Do you really think, the bad people (in your mind) do things just to ‘be bad’?
  2. Are you sometimes disappointed in your team, your colleagues or the people around you?
  3. Everyone cheats, does something a little bit (or a lot) wrong – we all have a bit of bad inside us – but what is the motivation, environment and rationalisation that leads to that behaviour?

Thirdly, here are some thoughts on how we can use some of our innermost human traits to achieve positive outcomes.

The opportunity

Give people the opportunity to feel good about themselves, and start a new chapter – it will make them more likely to do the right thing.

If people feel bad about themselves then the ‘what the heck factor’ kicks in and so does the behaviour. How many times have you heard people say ‘What the heck….I’ll just….everyone else does…?’. If you are behaving badly, it could be because you don’t really feel as good about you as you could. So, change it.

When you see bad behaviour – do you give those around you the chance for a fresh start and do you make it obvious to them – so they can see the ‘good opportunity?’

The rationalisation

It isn’t always necessarily a good thing.

Always consider the parameters, because if people can rationalise why they do something, they are more likely to keep doing it.

Take the case of illegal music downloads. People can frame their behaviour as a heroic act of freedom in the spirit of rationalisation even if, in reality, it’s stealing. This is especially true if lots of people are doing the same – it proves their point.

Think about how you can reduce the ‘it’s ok because – rationalisation’ by creating better benefits and outcomes that are worth it at work and in life. Try to create understanding that a lot of small acts have a big impact.

This is why we believe in ‘good capitalism’ and authenticity – but at the same time realise we are human too.

Ask yourself. Would you think it’s wrong to take small amount of money from the petty cash box but think nothing of taking some stationery from the cupboard? If you would – is that because it’s a social norm?

The perception

Change the perception of what’s good or worth it.

Doing this creates less distance between what you do and the impact.

If the wrong thing is perceived as good (e.g. it might not be ideal but in the end we achieve x) – then no matter what it takes to achieve a particular outcome, it could still be rationalised as ‘just OK’. If people are far removed from the impact and 100 small acts lead to one big impact – it’s perceived as OK. That was the case with the banking industry.

Ask yourself, do you justify the less than ideal, because you believe it’s for a higher purpose? You achieve x, you protect y? How do you feel when others do the same?


When reminded of what’s right and wrong, humans instinctively start to want to do the right thing.

I think this is really interesting. Apparently, even an atheist reminded of the ten commandments – changes their frame of reference (at least for a while). People naturally want to feel good about themselves and they want a world in which good and fairness prevails. How do we create the right personal and professional conditions to maintain that? How do define right and wrong in a way that encourages people to choose the latter. How do we remind people of the obvious without it appearing condescending?

As yourself, when do you read, see something or talk to someone – which in your mind is the exemplar of good – how does it make you feel and reflect. How many times have you done that and thought – I want to be like that or them

The environment

How do we create the right one?

How do we make people feel good about themselves, meaning they are more likely to do the right things. How do we help them to see the impact of what they do – good and bad – and in doing so bring them closer to seeing and experiencing it. How do we constantly remind others of what’s right or wrong – by living the behaviour ourselves and through our corporate culture? This is the type of environment that will help them to start a new chapter with dignity and some excitement when things have been less than perfect.

Interestingly, these are all things we try to do with children. We tell them right from wrong, we give them the chance to say sorry and move on, we show them the impact of what they did – both good and bad.

Perhaps we forget to do the same with adults sometimes.

Individuals and organisations that do the wrong thing end up with less of everything and fewer friends and supporters, and ultimately no one wants that. If you want success in the long-term, and not just the short term, then this could be something to ponder over.

If trust is the currency of success this is something to consider very seriously.

Can you lead by example? Can you keep a check on your good and bad?

What are your thoughts and examples – I’d love to hear them. Tweet me @ClaireCater1