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Developing a Personal Code of Conduct

When you’re hiking, a compass helps you find your directions. However, it’s of limited use if you don’t also have a map showing where you want to go. Similarly, on your ethical journey, the four foundational values — fairness, respect, responsibility, and honesty — can give you direction. 

But you also need your own personal code of conduct — your ethical map. Using the foundational values and your personal code of conduct, you should be able to find your way to the right ethical decision.

Developing a code of conduct means committing to ethical principles to answer certain questions. For example, when you make a promise, will you allow yourself to break it?

This involves thinking about what you have to do in order to live ethically. You must tailor your code of conduct to your own beliefs.

There’s a simple process for developing your personal code of conduct, which includes three steps. Step one is drafting standards. Step two is testing the code. And step three is refining the code.

Step 1: Drafting standards

The first step of the process is drafting standards for your code of conduct. This involves paying special attention to the language you use, the reasons for including standards, and whether or not they’re realistic goals.

There are three guidelines that’ll help you to make sure your standards are concrete, personal, and realistic. The first is to use clear language free from loaded terminology. Second, base standards on your own beliefs. And third, make sure your standards are realistic.

Some common problems that can make codes of conduct less practical relate to their phrasing. The first guideline encourages you to use clear language free from loaded terminology.

Avoid vague language. To be useful, your code must contain guidance for concrete actions. For example, saying that you’ll respect others is too vague. Will you allow yourself to tell lies to spare the feelings of someone you respect? Be as precise as possible in your code.