Ethical Fading & how easily it can happen when you’re stressed

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I got distracted by ‘the competition’. It might have happened to you too.

Because dog trainers aren’t the only ones who have aversive counterparts.

And while we might serve similar functions to our aversive alternatives (at least to the untrained eye), our methods are wildly different.

Thank dog.

But the aversive bleeps definitely do shout the loudest, as I’ve previously referenced in my manifesto…

So loud in fact, that I was momentarily distracted.

I spent way too long last week down a rabbit hole of an aversive marketer. 🐰🕳

My immunity temporarily faded and I very nearly drifted into the ethical fade….

The Ethical Fade

We all need to make money – even more so now for many of us. The economy’s shite, sales are harder than usual to make, and panic sporadically sets in…

And this can put us at risk of the ethical fade. 

This is how Simon Sinek describes the social phenomenon – the ethical fade. 

“Ethical Fading is when a group of people make unethical decisions believing they’re consistent with their own ethical framework. In other words, they don’t think they’ve done anything unethical.”

Simon Sinek

Stick with me, because if you’ve read this far and think this doesn’t apply to you because you’d never choose to do anything that contradicts your morals… you might be surprised! 

Nous group define the ethical fade as follows: 

“Ethical fading is the mind’s tendency to overlook ethical considerations when experiencing cognitive overload. It explains why people can believe their actions have nothing to do with ethics.”

Nous Group

Simon explains that it’s something that happens gradually and it’s often influenced by outside pressures and influence. 

He tells a story of a study done at a university. They ran an experiment where 3 cohorts of students were presented with a person in need who was collapsed on the ground. 

The students had to pass him to get to their next lecture. 

  • Group 1 were directed to their next lecture with no time pressure to get there. 63% of them stopped to help. 
  • Group 2 were directed to their next lecture with moderate pressure that they were late and needed to hurry. 45% of them stopped to help. 
  • Group 3 were directed to the lecture with a lot more pressure, they must get there as quickly as possible or else. 10% of them stopped to help. 

I think this clearly highlights that most people are inherently good and want to help others. But when their own stress levels rise or they’re under pressure, they have less capacity to put the needs of others first. 

This could lead us into talking about how self care is so important if you want to help others, but I’ll resist the tangent. 

Because I want to talk about how easily we can get what I’d call ‘ethics drift’ when we’re up against it. 

My near slip into the ethical fade

Last week, I went down a rabbit hole with a marketing guru. It followed another conversation I’d had with someone else who was trying to tell me that offering pay what you can was undervaluing myself and that all offers HAVE to have a deadline. 

The first conversation made me angry, in fact I wrote a whole page on what I thought was wrong with what she said (I’ll spare you for now – think I could write a book on all this one day!)…

But then I started watching videos and training from this wildly successful marketing guru. 

And I started getting sucked in. 

He took my objections and fed me a new narrative on them. 

“Nobody does jack without a deadline” he said, “and although some people have a ‘ttude about them – I don’t want to hear it, because they’re not making any money.”

Sounds pretty rough right? 

But it was sandwiched between so much talk about helping people and what to do to get them to accept your help that my long held view on deadlines taking away people’s agency and putting pressure on them started to fade. 

He said “you’re not taking away their agency, you’re giving them a deadline to make a choice”.

It was like he was in my head – how did he know what my deadline objection was?! 

^^^ marketing and message mining, that’s how. 

Understanding your audience and what stops them saying yes – then crafting your message to unpick their objections one by one. 

It all started to sound plausible. And suddenly the deadline wasn’t the only thing that did. 

The voice of the other person I spoke to recently who said people only value what they pay for suddenly felt worth listening to.

Before I had instantly called BS on it. 

I’ve paid loads of money for stuff then never used it or valued it and I’ve got absolute bargains and used them and thought they were awesome. 

The price I pay for something doesn’t influence how much I value it as a right of passage – there’s so much more that does (told you I could write a book on this). 

The point is, these messages have been told to me for years. 

And the drumbeat of them has only got louder and louder. 

People all around me seem more successful, make more money and HELP MORE PEOPLE – because they use these tactics. Deadlines and value positioning DO push people to say yes and take action. 

And that’s when the ethical fade almost happened – although of course it’s been a gradual decline that was mostly subconscious. 

You see, I started to buy the fact that putting a deadline on my course and putting the price up would make more people want to do it – and that in turn would help me meet my ultimate goal – to help more ethical dog bods help more dogs. 

When you put it that way, the outcome sounds ethical doesn’t it?! So isn’t that ok???

I decided that I would re-fresh my pay-what-you-can course Underdogs Unleashed to make it better… and when that was done, I’d put a higher price tag on it, do a launch, and have a deadline. 

Fooking hell. What’s going on?! 

Other people’s thoughts, ideas and beliefs… that’s what. 

Drip. Drip. Drip. 

Thank dog, I picked up The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek again. I’d been reading it but dropped off while I was away on holiday.

I got into bed one evening, and started the next chapter. And guess what it was about?!

Yep. The Ethical Fade. 

If you’re trying to help people, isn’t it ok?

In my example, the outcome I’m seeking is ethical right? In fact it’s underpinned by my strong belief that dogs need us ethical and compassionate dog bods to get better at marketing. 

If we’re to really make a difference to the welfare and lived experience of dogs then people need to hear the messages we have to share. 

And my course is all about helping ethical dog bods to do that without being coercive or sleazy selling machines. 

But! It’s an online course that’s available to study at your own pace. Which means, if I put a deadline on it, I feel it’d be unethical. 

There’s no live element to it, I’m not running dated live cohorts of students at the moment. So why would it need a deadline?! 

Well, only to push people into taking action on my timeline rather than their own. 

And that’s not ethical. 

I don’t care if it ‘works.’ It’s assuming that people aren’t able to motivate themselves, make sensible decisions for themselves or take responsibility for their own actions. 

It’s a tactic. And I don’t like it. In fact, I dislike it so much that I wrote a blog about it (and it’s other scarcity siblings) back in October 2023.  

What else puts us at risk of ethical fading? 

Simon says “One of the ways it happens is a ridiculous amount of pressure on short term results. We can rationalise; everyone’s doing it, it’s the system.”

The other is the slippery slope – you do something small and it doesn’t appear to have a negative effect on anything or anyone (a bit like a white lie!)… so we go a little bit further. And before we know it, we’re operating completely outside of our ethics. 

How does Simon say we can combat it or safeguard ourselves from it? 

“The way you combat it is good leadership, where that kind of thing is not tolerated…. the other ways are Just Cause*, Trusting Teams*, all of these things contribute to operating in a highly ethical way.”

Simon Sinek

My Just Cause is this: That people and animals have agency in their lives, are heard, and supported without barriers (financial or otherwise).

Why am I telling you this? 

Well, partly because I find it an incredibly interesting topic and I thought you might too. 

And partly for accountability. 

If I publicly state that I won’t use unethical deadlines and will only have a deadline on something when it’s necessary… then I’ll have to follow through. 

And yes, I think that also might mean no flash sales – although I’m still thinking through my view on the ethics of those and I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

If I ever run Underdogs Unleashed live again, there will be a deadline. Because everyone will need to start at the same time! So it’s needed, not made up to cajole people to do what I want them to. 

But until then, the course will remain available all year round… 

And for now at least, it’s keeping its pay what you can price tag – because that’s how I give my real purpose for this course its best shot. 

And yes, it’s still getting an update to make it better – because I’ve learned a lot since I put it together and I can see places where I can improve it to make it easier to action. 

Phew – that was a lot right?! And yet, I still have so much more to say on it. 

Perhaps I should write that book! 

But in the meantime, why not grab yourself a copy of Simon Sinek’s Infinite Game – because if any of what I’ve said in this piece resonates with you – I think you’ll really enjoy it. 

Rikki

*Just Cause and Trusting Teams are two concepts Simon talks about in the Infinite Game. And combined with the coalition of the willing that Andrew Hale talked to us about at The Curiosity Quest – I’m starting to think about how these three things have a place for us as a community. 

I’d love as a first step for you to hold me accountable. If you ever see me sliding into something that doesn’t seem on point with the ethics I preach about – will you let me know please? 

AaBb

Written by Rikki S

Hi, I'm Rikki. I'm a copywriter specialising in helping pet businesses with copy that attracts, engages, and converts.

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