Career Connection

‘The devil made me do it’ and other unethical behavior rationalizations

When it comes to unethical behavior, people have a knack for rationalizing (one leg of the Fraud Triangle) to try to justify their actions. Whether it’s “the devil made me do it” or “everyone else is doing it,” there’s always an explanation, based on some form of self-interest, for why someone did something they shouldn’t have or acted in a way contrary to their nature.

Growing up, we all tried at some point or another to squirm our way out of being accountable for something we shouldn’t have done or said. (I admit to throwing my little brother under the bus a couple of times, but my parents were wise to that approach.) We spun the facts or rationalized our action to avoid punitive measures; in short, we wanted to preserve our standing in the family unit and stay in Mom and Dad’s good graces. But alas, many of us suffered some parental wrath as a consequence for our behavior — and the fictitious tales we told to rationalize it. Our parents knew something we kids didn’t fully appreciate: Rationalization allows us to wander further away on the far side of truth. As adults gaining experience in our respective professions, we learn about compliance and ethics, but we also add to our repertoire of rationalizations.

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