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Approaching Unethical Behavior

Tags:  Difficult co-worker, Ethics

Ethics is a system of moral principles which deals with human values like right and wrong or good and bad. The difficulty with approaching unethical situations, especially at work, is that most people have their own personal view of what is and isn't ethical behavior and sometimes principles are swayed by what people think they can get away with.


That doesn't make it any less wrong. It's just easier to convince yourself that it's not all that bad. After all, it's not like you're lying, cheating and stealing, right? Well, that depends on your viewpoint.


Too often people will convince themselves that what they are doing is all right because no one has been physically harmed due to their actions or the company has deep enough pockets that it can well afford to let them use a little for personal gain. The problem is that they are not considering how their behavior might affect co-workers.


Bottom line is if you are faced with a situation that undermines your reputation and your work, it's time to follow these Guideposts:


1. Get the facts; ask questions


Most people know what happens when you assume. So it is important to make sure you understand the situation completely before jumping to any conclusions.


The best way to be sure you know what is going on is by asking questions. Not in an accusatory, finger-pointing way. Instead show interest in what the other person is doing and clarify their intent. Perhaps they don't even know what they are doing is wrong or impacts you negatively.


2. State your position as well as company policy


Once you have all the facts you are in a better position to share your point of view as well as to help the other person see how what they are doing affects you and violates company policy. Now you have to decide how to let them know.


Beating them over the head with the information may just make them defensive or tune them out to your message. By approaching them in a friendly, easy-going or even humorous manner, you can better help them to realize the impact of their actions and open up the conversation for further discussion. 


3. Gain agreement and/or an understanding of perspectives


Sometimes it's just a matter of helping people to see things from a different perspective before they can understand the impact of their actions. It's not that they want to be unreasonable; it's just that they aren't seeing the big picture.


Once you've been able to talk about the situation, you will be in a better position to gain buy-in on what needs to happen next.


Your role and your goal should not be to criticize or attack, but instead should be to share the impact of the unethical behavior on you, the company as well as on them -- something they just might not realize.

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