Can you teach someone ethics?
By Dave Kahle
Q.  Dave, I have hired a new, young, aggressive sales person.  I want to make sure he understands the ethical boundaries of his job. Is there some recommended way to teach ethics to a new sales person?
A. You can teach him ethics, but I’m not sure that he will learn them.
            Let me explain.
First, there is a huge difference between teaching and learning. It is bigger than just semantics.  “Teaching” is what teachers and trainers do.  It refers to the communication organized and put forth by someone who wants the other person to understand something.
            “Learning” is what learners do.  It refers to the understanding and realizations that lead to decisions that take place in the mind of the learners, usually in response to some conversation or event. For adults on the job, you can tell that someone has learned when they change their behavior and act differently.
Unfortunately, the two don’t always have a relationship to one another. Just because you “teach” something doesn’t mean than someone “learns” it. The world is full of teachers and trainers who “teach”, but no one learns.
            Now, back to your question.  Yes, you should teach your new sales person what it means to be ethical in your company. There are some ways to do so.  For example, if you have a code of ethics, print a copy and have him read it.  (If you don’t, you may want to review my “Ten Commandments for the Ethical Sales Person.”)  Talk about it with him.  Discuss some potential scenarios and point out what would be ethical behavior in those circumstances. 
            If you expect him to be ethical, you have the responsibility to communicate that expectation to him, and to precisely describe what it means.
            That’s how you teach ethics, which is your question.  However, I suspect that your real question is something more like this:  “How can I be sure that he will behave ethically?” 
            That’s a different question.  You may have taught him, but that doesn’t in any way guarantee that he will learn.  Here’s why.  There are certain qualities of character that reside so deeply in a person that they resist almost every attempt to modify them from the outside. They sprout to life via a confluence of heredity and upbringing, and push their roots down in a person’s formative years.  Those roots take hold and twist themselves around the deepest parts of a person, and become almost impossible to untangle.
            Here’s a helpful way to understand this.  Check out the  diagram of a human being, developed from a behavior-changer’s perspective.

            As managers and trainers, we mostly concern ourselves with the most superficial levels of behavior.  Making good time management decisions, for example, or learning to ask better questions, close more effectively, etc.  These are all behaviors that are superficial.  However, if we want to make broader, more long-lasting and important changes, we have to work deeper into the person.
            Ethics and integrity arise out of the deeper aspects of a person’s psyche.  While our instruction may get us some situational compliance on the surface, the real substance of that character trait is deeper.
            Now, here’s the rub.  We can’t change those deeper character traits.  We can’t make an unethical person ethical.  Of course, we can shape the character of our children; but adults, on the job?  No way.  We can plant seeds, we can influence, we can provide direction, but we can’t change a person at the deeper levels.
That’s why, by the way, in hiring a new salesperson, I recommend you hire qualities of character, and then educate the new sales person in the product and the sales competencies.  You can help them change behavior at a superficial level, but you can’t change deeper qualities of character.
            There is though, some hope.  While we can’t change them, they can change themselves!  They can choose to become more ethical for example.  They can choose to become more sensitive to others, more empathetic, more responsible, etc.  It’s not easy.  It takes a strong commitment, an act of will, and a persistent effort.  The vast majority of mankind would rather not put forth the effort.
            So, you can encourage him/her, but the commitment and effort to change has to come from inside that person. 
            While we are on this subject, let’s take it one step deeper.  The greatest changes in a person’s character come through spiritual transformations.  You can see that on the diagram.  Another word for “paradigms” is “spiritual.”  Because that is the deepest level, it impacts everything above it.
            We all know people who have experienced a spiritual transformation, and as a result became different people.  Maybe you are one of those people.  I certainly am.  The character that I had, and the person that I was before I met God was nothing like the character I have now.  Not that I, or anyone, is complete.  We are all works-in-process, continually developing. I have a long way to go.  But I am markedly different today than I was thirty years ago.
            Those spiritual transformations, at least the positive ones, always require an encounter with Jesus Christ. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” 
            If you believe Him, that means that if we are going to have a spiritual encounter with God, we have to do it through Christ.  Everything else is either artificial and empty, or at best, just a step in the direction.  If we want to change our lives, significantly, transformationally, then we have to encounter Christ.

            I happen to believe Him.  I’d recommend you do, too.  If you really want to see a person change, facilitate a spiritual transformation.  Introduce him to Christ.  If you’d like to read more, click here.