How often do you find yourself in situations in the business world that go against your value system? And how often have you been able to make those values heard and respected? Most of us would probably answer “a lot” to the first question and “not very often” to the second.

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A common error: understanding ethics as the good guys against the bad guys

One of the situations that can arise is taking the subjective view that the world is divided into good guys and bad guys. In Ethics classes, managers often analyze case studies from that perspective.

It’s true that there are situations in which someone is objectively doing right or wrong, but when ethical dilemmas arise in the workplace, if you take the perspective that you are a good guy and everyone else is a bad guy, it will eventually lead to unsustainable scenarios.

  • The so-called good guy will end up burning out after repeatedly getting into extreme situations and will tend to identify people with their actions and judge people instead of the facts.
  • What’s more, the people around the so-called good guy often end up seeing him as conflictive. Though his complaints may be valid, they can also cause confrontation. The good guy might end up being considered a loudmouth and a troublemaker.

But there are smarter ways to make your values heard and respected.

A smart approach to ethics in the workplace

In her book, Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right, Mary C. Gentile, of Harvard Business School, provides some ideas about how to achieve this objective in organizations:

  1. First of all, it’s necessary to understand that the approach should always be constructive, not confrontational. When the most basic emotions start to emerge, reason isn’t always there to help.
  2. Write a detailed script of why it’s necessary to act differently about what is happening.
  3. Identify possible allies in the company, as well as people who may be against you. In both cases, think about your own arguments and reasoning, and those of the other side.
  4.  Lay out your approach: decide who you will speak to, in what order and how (either in public or private).
  5. Always use an open approach by asking questions instead of making categorical statements. Avoid making value judgements about others. You will definitely need all your emotional intelligence! And use a contextual approach by ensuring that you don’t let the little things get in the way of what really matters.
  6. Pursue objectivity in your approach. The aim is not to complain, but to make a change for the better.
  7. Be prepared to deal with mind games: A typical mind game involves loyalty and goodness: You’re only loyal to the company if you do what you’re told. Otherwise, you’re not loyal or good.
  8. Be conscientious and unbiased: Avoid bias that can affect your perspective of the situation or condition your reaction: Fear, fatigue, authority versus reason, etc.

What if you’re not able to do it?

If, in spite of all the above, you are unable to make your values heard, this approach has many advantages and some disadvantages. The disadvantages are basically that you have to be very calm, emotionally intelligent and a hard worker.

But the advantages include avoiding unnecessary emotional wear and tear in the process of fighting for what you believe in and being able to sleep at night because your conscience is very probably at peace.

However, if you feel that the values that have not been heard represent a red line that should never be crossed, you also have other options, such as quietly planning your departure from the company. Without creating enemies!