What is the line between ethical and unethical behavior? Judging from the news headlines, the answer is not always clear.

That’s because there is no single, or universal, code of ethical decision making to make our lives easier. Every single day, we rely on our own internal compasses to make decisions that affect how much—or how little—other people trust us.

There is an ethical element to practically everything we do, and it’s been this way for thousands of years. In fact, the word ethics dates to the Ancient Greek word “ethos,” which refers to one’s character, or moral nature.

An Age-Old Dilemma

If scholars like Aristotle and Socrates were debating ethics back in Ancient Greece, you might think that we’d have things figured out by now. But it seems like our society is so fixated on appearances and success, and the pressure to perform is so great, that some people feel like they have no choice but to compromise their values just to get ahead.

Not surprisingly, people throughout history have tried to make ethical decision making a bit easier by creating different evaluation criteria. You’ve likely heard of The Golden Rule. You may also be familiar with The Platinum Rule. But have you heard of The Four-Way Test?

Developed by businessman Herbert J. Taylor in 1932, and adopted by Rotary International in 1942, The Four-Way Test of the things we think, say, or do consists of four questions of self-examination. They are:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Powerfully simple, The Four-Way Test has been translated into the languages of more than 100 countries—and yet it remains a well-kept secret. I want to change that.

An Ethical Decision-Making Framework for Everyone

In my book The Trusted Way: A Story About Building a Life and Business of Character, the main character is a morally challenged entrepreneur who learns about The Four-Way Test and follows it to become a trusted advisor and friend. He uses it to think more creatively, to look at situations through different lenses, and to consider the values of others.

You do not need to read my book to learn more about The Four-Way Test and its applications (although I certainly hope that you do!). You can also watch this 26-minute presentation for the Rotary Club of Seattle in which I cover:

  • The surprising story behind The Four-Way Test
  • How The Four-Way Test can help you build strong personal and professional relationships
  • Why The Four-Way Test is more relevant than ever in the 21st century
  • How to memorize The Four-Way Test (and other important information) using a highly effective technique

You’ll find the presentation on YouTube at https://youtu.be/5iVl6hl_gHA?t=128. As you watch, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are some of the ethical decisions that I make every day?
  2. Do I have a preferred framework for ethical decision making?
  3. How can The Four-Way Test help me make better decisions at work or at home?

Do you want your employees or team members to be more deliberate in their decision making? Our SCORM-compliant e-Learning course, appropriately titled “The Four-Way Test: A Practical Guide to Ethical Decision Making,” is available via online learning leader OpenSesame as is our complete online course catalog.


Patrick Galvin is a professional speaker, TEDx presenter, and author of The Way series of popular business parables. He is also the chief galvanizer of The Galvanizing Group, a learning and development company offering coaching, training, and online courses to high-performance companies and teams who seek a systematic and measurable approach to trust-based business relationship building.

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