The news today is filled with lines being drawn in the sand. While few of us face the terrible decisions our world’s leaders must face, we do all face our own “line in the sand”: witnessing unethical behavior at work.
Over the course of teaching ethics in the past seven years, I’ve relied on the work of Mary Gentile, recently retired from the Darden School, and her framework called “Giving Voice to Values.” Gentile gives practical, applicable advice about how to speak your mind when you know what’s right and without getting on a soapbox, influencing the organization to do the right thing. She suggests:
- Anticipate the common ethical dilemmas you’ll face in your role at work and in your industry. Make a note that these challenges are a normal part of your work.
- As you would for any other normal part of work, prepare for them. You can do that by writing a script that you can recite when the issue arises.
- Practice the script out loud to develop “muscle memory,” just as an athlete would. Do this so that when the pressure is on, you can say your words calmly, naturally, without moving the conversation into high-stakes territory.
- Go one step further and anticipate “reasons and rationalizations” that your counterparts might bring up when you speak your mind, and be ready to respond to those as well.
- Think of persuasive arguments to accomplish your goal, which is not to win the argument, call out unethical behavior or admonish your colleagues. Your goal is to get the organization to do the right thing. What might motivate them to do the right thing (beyond “it’s the right thing”)?
The practicality of Gentile’s work appeals to me greatly. If it does to you, too, her book lays it out very clearly.
My students’ openness to this approach has changed in a few areas these past few years. What’s happened? #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. The executives I teach – of all genders and ethnicities – are calling a “times up!” on issues they have been silent on in the past. Their “line in the sand” has changed. They are speaking up more and putting up with less. One example: According to a survey by Glassdoor, nearly half of Black and Hispanic employees have left jobs because they experienced or witnessed discrimination at work.
As you anticipate the ethical dilemmas you may face, think about where you can be most effective by persuading….and where your “line in the sand” might be. What’s your “red line” on out-moded workplace behavior? And how do you want to react next time you witness it? For all of these scenarios, Mary Gentile’s work is here to help you make a plan and start building your ethical muscle memory.