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6 Real-Life Examples of Ethical Dilemmas

Facing dilemmas are a part of life. After all, life is all about making choices and most of the time, choosing between two or more aspects is easy enough. That is because you have a clear sense of what is right and what is wrong, as our cultural conditioning has taught us.

You may face many difficult situations at various stages of your life. You may encounter them at home, work, or even with friends. Even if you are not a part of the problem, your choices affect someone else on a deeper level.

This is when you have to question yourself about your sense of ethics. What are your values? What is your concept of right and wrong? Do you primarily go by what you feel or what others expect from you?

Asking yourself these questions can help you figure out where you stand and your views in life, which can help you make difficult choices. It might not be easy at first, but you must keep pushing and ask yourself some difficult questions to do that properly.

You may also try looking for advice from a mentor, a parent, or a close friend. Knowing yourself is the first step towards understanding social cues and developing your world views which will shape you.

What is an Ethical Dilemma?

What is an Ethical Dilemma

However, there are certain situations where making choices is not so easy. You may be faced with problems where although some things are accepted by society as a whole, it goes against your set of values.

Or, you may be asked to choose between two paths, both of which seem correct from different perspectives. On the other hand, both seem wrong, and you must decide which is the lesser evil.

This is what is called an ethical dilemma or a moral paradox. You are faced with situations like these at work, and both seem correct from a particular point of view. Things become even more complicated when your job is on the line, or your professional relationships are jeopardized because of your decision.

Ethical dilemmas usually need more straightforward solutions and may even give rise to more challenges. The outcome often affects other people apart from yourself. Hence, you must be mindful of the choices you make.

How to Resolve an Ethical Dilemma?

How to Resolve an Ethical Dilemma

Every person has to face ethical dilemmas at some point in their lives, be it in the social, personal, or professional sphere. And the solution is not easy to come by because it is not a black-and-white situation in most cases.

You have to work with some grey regions, and understanding the philosophy of life can help you with that. People have been confronted with such problems throughout history, and you can draw on examples to look for solutions.

Here are some approaches to help you out.

1. Refuting the Dilemma

Sometimes, the solution to the problem lies within the problem. If you carefully analyze it, you can negate or refute what caused the situation in the first place. Set aside your emotions and think logically, investigating the facts from a neutral perspective. The solution will often present itself.

2. Value Addition

Value Addition

If multiple solutions present themselves and you are unsure which one to go with, opt for the one that adds the most value to your life and the others involved. Choosing something for the greater good often produces a more satisfactory result.

3. Look for Alternatives

It is essential to be flexible while looking for solutions to ethical dilemmas. If you have a rigid set of values or are too uptight about your beliefs, you may find it challenging to come to a satisfactory solution.

Types of Ethical Dilemmas You May Face

As mentioned earlier, you may face various ethical dilemmas at different stages of your life or career. Here are the most common types.

1. Truth or Loyalty

Truth or Loyalty

This ethical dilemma often arises when you cannot choose whether to state the truth or be loyal to someone or an organization. The reason the person or organization may be lying is a crucial factor here. Are they lying for their interest or because they believe a lie will save a lot of grief or complications later? In such cases, do you still state the truth or choose to be loyal to the person, even though you know they are lying?

2. Individual Versus Society

Sometimes, making a decision can go against the well-being of a particular individual. Still, it can be good for society at large. But is it okay to sacrifice one for the convenience of others? How is the individual’s life going to change based on the decision?

3. Short-Term and Long-Term Repercussions

Short-Term and Long-Term Repercussions

At times, one solution to the problem might seem immensely detrimental, but it can yield fruit in the future. You need to have the foresight to understand how the long-term results would be better if you had patience. To let go of the urge for instant gratification and to make a choice that might go against you at present will be highly satisfactory in the future.

4. Punishment or Mercy

If a person has done wrong, they should be punished. However, how severe is the punishment? Moreover, was the mistake a conscious one or unwittingly committed? How will the life of the person change after the punishment? Or, is it better to show mercy, as benevolence always has a positive impact? This can help you make better decisions when holding someone accountable for their deeds.

Also Read:- How to Handle Being Reprimanded at Work Place? Our 4 Tips To Help You

Examples of Ethical Dilemmas at Work

While you may face ethical dilemmas in many aspects of your life, certain specific situations may arise at your workplace. Here are some everyday situations that you may encounter.

1. Someone Else Taking Credit for Work

Someone Else Taking Credit for Work

Workplaces often see cutthroat competition, and one of the most common scenarios is someone trying to take credit for someone else’s efforts. A colleague may try to cheat a coworker this way for a promotion, or a senior employee can take credit for the action and ideas of their junior team members.

If you ever encounter such a scenario, you may feel compelled to speak the truth. However, it could jeopardize your job if you complain against influential people. You may even face such a situation if someone takes credit for your work.

You have to decide whether you will let it pass or stand up against it because if you keep up with this, others might keep taking advantage of you, and you will never get true credit.

2. Offering Clients Sub-Standard Products

Another unethical practice in businesses is that customers are sold inferior quality products for a higher price. The company makes a profit, but the customers are cheated.

Yes, companies are allowed to make a profit, but if the product is very high priced compared to the quality it offers, then it is cheating. The ethical dilemma is whether to continue enjoying the profits or inform the customers about the discrepancy.

3. Doing Another Job Using Company Resources

Doing Another Job Using Company Resources

One of the most common ethical dilemmas today is to do other kinds of work using company time and resources. Huge corporations have lots of resources, and it might not matter if the company laptop is used for doing other work once in a while, like sending a personal email.

However, if an employee constantly uses the laptop to do another job on the side or play games that might not be suitable for the computer, that is unethical.

The dilemma may occur if you know one of your closest colleagues is doing this and whether to report this person taking a neutral stand. You may have to choose between the company and the colleague.

4. Stealing Company Resources

Stealing from the company does not have to be something big like stealing money. However, taking home a box of staplers, a packet of pens, or printer cartridges from the office storeroom also amounts to stealing.

When one person does it, others feel the urge to do it too, and when this happens frequently, it can eat into the company’s profits.

Moreover, if some people keep doing it, they will also have to face repercussions once the managers notice, and being reprimanded in front of the entire staff will not be very respectful.

5. Unethical Leadership

Unethical Leadership

Another ethical dilemma is whether to report a boss who prefers some colleagues over others or to keep one’s head down and go with the flow. Many people are afraid to speak up against their bosses. Still, it is the responsibility of a leader to be fair to all their juniors and not prefer only those who support them.

This can lead to an imbalance in the office dynamics and disrupt employee relationships, all of which will hinder productivity and be detrimental to the company at some point.

Also Read:- How To Answer “What is Your Leadership Style?” Fluently And Confidently

6. Trading Inside Knowledge

Trading company knowledge to gain leverage is wrong at many levels. This could also mean using company technology for unethical reasons.

It can be tough to hold your stand and do the right thing if lots of people are doing it at the same time.

However, you should take a stand if the information going out affects the company negatively.

Also Read:- How To Handle Difficult Situations At Work Place?

Resolving Ethical Dilemmas: How Can You Proceed?

Resolving Ethical Dilemmas: How Can You Proceed

The path to solving an ethical dilemma can be confusing. It is common to find that you are even more confused when trying to solve a problem. Gaining clarity about the situation is the first step towards resolving it. Here is what you can do.

1. Analyze the Situation and Make Yourself Impartial

It is vital to be impartial while finding a solution to an ethical dilemma. When you let your emotions in the mix, things will not remain impartial anymore. This is usually not very difficult if you are not close to the parties involved.

However, someone dear may sometimes be on the line and even your self-interest. Trying to set aside your emotions is the first step.

2. Analyze the Consequences

Of all the solutions that present themselves, you have to be sure about the consequences of your actions.

Carefully analyze what the repercussions will be once you have made your decision clear. Will it destroy someone’s career entirely? Is your solution just going to set an example for the short term?

Are you catering to the greater good, or will you think about yourself and your friends first? Who will the solution ultimately benefit?

Most importantly, will you be at peace with the solution, or will it start an endless loop of questions and self-doubt later? Thinking about long-term consequences can help you arrive at a decision.

3. Make the Decision

The final step is to consider all the aspects and make a decision. However, it is more important to stick to it. Do not keep changing your decision, and that will only confuse you further, as well as anyone else involved.

Even if there is some confusion, remember that you arrived at a decision after carefully considering all aspects. You should give it some time to work itself out.


Ethical dilemmas at work might seem challenging to solve at first, but you will grow and learn as a person as time goes by. You will realize what matters in life for you. It can be very fulfilling to be able to do what is right.

Even if you side with the wrong just because everyone else condones it, you will feel self-loathing over time. Read books on philosophy and what great thinkers had to say during such occasions, and you will find a more straightforward path to move forward.

Try to think about what brings you personal fulfillment, and it will be easier for you to make your decisions. If not, think about how your decision can positively affect those concerned, and you will have your solution.