Moral openness: on the climate for reasoned moral agreement
Stansbury, Jason Martin
Businesspeople sometimes face moral equivocality at work, when they must discern the moral implications of a problem. That equivocality poses a risk of overlooking or misconstruing important implications of a problem; for that reason, many businesspeople seek the insight of others involved in a problem before making a decision. Moral openness describes the earnestness and validity of those inquiries. Some inquiries are too perfunctory to address the question, or directed toward people who are already expected to agree or who can be cajoled into agreement. Other inquiries seek out a broader range of opinions, refrain from bullying or co-opting participants, and pursue the inquiry to its resolution. The latter are more open, and are likely to lead to more robust conclusions. This dissertation conceptualizes moral openness climate as the set of shared perceptions among members of a work group that moral openness prevails when moral equivocality arises. The philosophical literature on discourse ethics, and the organizational behavior literatures on climate, silence, sensemaking, and empowerment together give definition to moral openness climate, which is then situated in a nomological net of related constructs. This dissertation also describes four studies, using both qualitative and quantitative data from the laboratory and the field. These illustrate the reality of moral equivocality and moral openness climate in the workplace, develop a survey scale for measuring moral openness climate, and relate moral openness climate to its expected consequences. Results indicate that moral openness climate is simpler in practice than might be expected in light of its philosophical roots, and in fact that it may not be distinct from existing constructs like respectful interaction or participatory decision-making. Its predictive validity is mixed, with significant results only for collective moral motivation and collective moral character. These findings suggest that while moral discourse and moral openness appear to be realities in organizations, businesspeople do not discern important aspects of moral openness climate. Implications for the literatures on discourse ethics in organizations, organizational silence, moral psychology, and sensemaking are discussed, as is future research on issue construction and moral leadership.