In their 2011 book Blind Spots, professors Max Bazerman (Harvard Business School) and Ann Tenbrunsel (University of Notre Dame) write about how people act against their own ethical values, and how they aren’t as ethical as they may think they are. The situations the authors describe are more common than you might realize. Their research data clearly show how people, when asked about a difficult or confrontational situation, say they will act ethically. This is what they “should” do. In the real situation, they choose the non-confrontational or easy path, and act unethically. This is what they “want” to do. When asked to recall how they acted, they engage in a form of revisionist history and describe what they did as ethical. After all, in seeing themselves as ethical people, they couldn’t have engaged in unethical behavior. You can imagine how this line of reasoning could move people onto the “slippery slope” of seeing unethical behavior as actually being ethical.
The authors also presented data showing how over 50% of respondents said they would act a certain way when facing a situation, and yet when they actually encountered the situation, none of the respondents acted the way they predicted. It’s clear that people intend rather than demonstrate ethical behavior.