How to speak up

By Amy Gallo via hbr.org   Article

How to Speak Up About Ethical Issues at Work

“Sometimes you sense that something isn’t right at work. You suspect that your finance colleague might be fudging numbers, your boss isn’t telling his manager the truth about an important project, or your co-worker is skipping out of the office early but leaving her computer on so it looks like she’s just down the hall. … when you do decide to say something, what do you say and to whom? …

Weigh the pros and cons
… One of the biggest pros of saying something is that you might help the business, especially if the unethical behavior puts the company at risk of a lawsuit, damaging an important customer relationship, or losing money. You might also feel better about yourself if you don’t stay silent. … research has shown that people regret inaction more than they do actions that didn’t go well. …

Talk to the perpetrator first
… You might be tempted to go to your boss or your colleague’s boss, but it’s often better to give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that, when he sees how his behavior is perceived, he’ll change. Give him the opportunity to correct his ways or to at least explain himself before you escalate. …

Rehearse
If you decide to say something to your colleague, don’t go in cold. ‘Spend some time with a trusted peer, your spouse, or a good friend — someone you can talk the situation through with in a non-defensive, open way – to test your reasoning and develop an action plan’ …

Ask questions, don’t accuse
Broaching the subject by saying, ‘I think what you’re doing is wrong,’ or giving a lecture on morality is likely to backfire. ‘That leads the other person to shut down and get defensive — not because they’re unethical but because they’re human’ … ‘A better place to start would be to ask questions instead of making assertions’ … Use phrases like: ‘Can you help me understand…’ or ‘Can you help me see why you’re not worried…’ …

Escalate when necessary
It’s also possible that your colleague will react negatively to your questioning and say something like ‘Let’s not talk about it anymore’ or ‘Mind your own business.’ If that happens, the next step is to ask yourself: Do I want to talk to someone else about this? Or do I let it lie? ‘Only you can decide’ …

Protect yourself
‘We know enough about whistleblowers to know that retaliation is real’ … You’ll probably never be in a situation where it’s 100% safe to speak up so ‘think about how you might protect yourself’ … [keep] a record of relevant conversations and enlisting allies to support you if things go sideways.”

 

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