Are You Easily Influenced
Q. My company has a
policy that employees
are not permitted to accept gifts from vendors
or outside contacts that exceed a very low value,
about the cost of a pen or a logo t-shirt.
The exception is restaurant meals,
although we are expected to pay the bill with our corporate credit cards
if we dine out with these connections.
I understand the ethics behind the policy,
but it seems somewhat silly to me.
Why would it matter to me who paid the bill for dinner?
Are people really that
to corruption that a small gift
would make such a difference?
Can such policies be designed more rationally?
A. You may laugh at your company's rules,
but they exist for a reason —
and are often backed by scientific data.
While your conscious
mind tells you there's no way
you could be swayed
by a small gift or paid-for dinner,
your unconscious mind may be processing the experience differently.
"There is a
body of research on the psychology
demonstrating that people are
to very small 'token' gifts,"
said Stephen Gilliland, executive director of the
Center for Leadership Ethics at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management,
in Tucson, Arizona, in the US.
Gilliland cites research on persuasion by psychologist Robert Cialdini,
including a study that looked at how much restaurant customers tipped
after receiving a tiny gift from their server.
Two small candies and a scribbled
smiley face on the bill led to a larger tip,
indicating that even such an insignificant
a feeling of
"Even though it may feel like it doesn't
matter who pays for dinner,
it is possible that this
could result in
Gilliland said by email.
The other problem with accepting gifts from
and business contacts
is how it looks, he said:
"Even if the act of paying for dinner has
no effect on behaviour toward the vendor
it might create perceptions
You feel that a gift would have no effect on you,
but how would you view a competitor who buys
someone dinner and then wins a big contract?
If your company didn't have a policy
outsiders might think you were
your way to success.
Worse, your own colleagues could follow your lead and loosen up
an otherwise ethical corporate culture.
"With ethics, managing perceptions is critical
to developing a culture of ethical behaviour," Gilliland said.
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