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Explaining Unethical Behavior

Rationalizing and Excusing One’s Unethical Behavior

When people behave dishonestly, they often utilize techniques of neutralization at the same time (see Sykes and Matza 1957) to justify to themselves what they are doing; by explaining away their deviant behavior, they are able to feel no guilt and to maintain a positive self-concept.9 Sykes and Matza’s five techniques of neutralization are denying responsibility for one’s antisocial act, claiming that actually no harm was caused by the act, claiming that the victim deserved the harm caused and thus is not a true victim, believing that everybody commits some offense, and finally, receiving approval from one’s group or gang for what was done.10

Several possible reasons exist for people behaving dishonestly, including the perception of potential offenders that they have been treated unfairly at work or did not receive a pay raise they thought was deserved; in such cases, there will be an increased propensity to lie or behave selfish (Hornuf and Haas 2013, 198). According to Hornuf and Haas, the effective way to prevent criminal offenses such as fraud is not through harsh punishment such as longer terms of imprisonment for transgressors but by establishing a “honest and fair environment in which employees would suffer internal costs if they perform badly or commit a fraud” (p. 199).

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