Darden Ideas to Action, a site that features cutting edge research insights from the Darden School at UVA, published a fascinating piece earlier this year titled, "TALKING OURSELVES INTO IT: HOW WE RATIONALIZE BAD CHOICES." The article describes research by James Detert and Sean Martin, along with several colleagues from other schools. Jim and I went to graduate school together, and he is a terrific scholar of organizational behavior. You can read the underlying research here.
These scholars have documented a rationalization process that they call "moral disengagement" that unfolds when we are trying to justify to ourselves and others our poor decisions. Detert and Martin have created a typology of moral disengagement strategies, and they offer some examples of the types of pharses associated with each strategy. Here are the eight types. The list proves a useful tool for self-reflection. You can ask yourself: Am I thinking or saying something similar to these phrases? If you answer yes, it might be time to step back and reconsider your course of action or your decisions.
Here are eight common moral disengagement strategies and what they sound like:
Moral justification (“This is actually the morally right thing to do; we’re actually helping them by doing this.”)
Euphemistic labeling (“I’m just ‘borrowing’ this.” “It’s ‘collateral damage.’”)
Advantageous comparison (“Doing A, is not as bad as doing B.” “It’s not like I’m doing B.”)
Displacement of responsibility (“My boss told me to do it.” “I’m just following orders.”)
Diffusion of responsibility (“Everyone’s doing it.” “It’s a group decision.” “This is just a small part of a bigger system.”)
Distortion of consequences (“This is a victimless crime.” “No harm done.” “It’s no big deal.”)
Attribution of blame (“They brought it on themselves.” “Buyer beware.”)
Dehumanization (“They’re a bunch of dogs.” “They’re like robots.”)