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Speak Up for What's Right

 

Do you feel confident enough to speak up when you see something that definitely isn't right going on at your office? Have you felt that if you had spoken up you might have helped prevent serious wrongdoing by your company? Do you have any idea about how you should go about speaking out in such situations?

Mary C. Gentile, Director of the "Giving Voice to Values" curriculum and Senior Research Scholar at Babson College, offers answers to such questions in her new book by the same name, (Yale University Press $26).

A pioneer in developing curriculum on ethical decision-making, based in Arlington MAS, Gentile
Drew on actual business experiences, as well as social science and management research to write her book.

She learned our acting on our values is a skill set that is just as learnable as ethical decision-making. Her hope is that all of us will eventually learn to voice our values when transgression occurs suddenly-instead of just watching things fall apart without taking action.

Her suggestions for gaining the courage to "do the right thing", include:
 
*          Learn the antidotes to powerlessness. Research tells us that a sense of futility is one of the major deterrents to voicing unpopular positions in the workplace. We don't believe anything will happen so we don't bother, but this recognition in itself holds a seed for action. This calls for the need to celebrate the stories of times when people did, in fact, successfully change things through speaking up. And we need to do that close to home, to see individuals close to us, in our workplace or in our community, who speak up.
 
*        Think about how we frame and express what's at stake. We know that people tend to discount future costs and consequences over near term implications. So if we want to be heard about an impending risk, we need to make the costs feel real - quantify them, put them in a vivid story, point to a similar event.
 
*         Amplify the impact of our own conscience by finding allies. By normalizing the experience of values conflicts in the workplace, we make them discussable. We start from the position that most of us would like to act on our values if we thought we could do so effectively: "WHAT IF" you knew what you thought was right? How would you get it done?"
 
*         It's never too early or too late to voice our concerns. It's just that they need to be voiced, framed, and targeted in different ways depending on the timing.  Early in the process, the kind of evidence gathering and scripting of arguments and gathering of allies is effective. At the time of the crisis, the need is different. These are the moments when individuals need to speak loudly, to reach out to their colleagues explicitly for support.
 
*         Practice is Essential. One of the things we have learned from other high stakes contexts, such as hospitals, is that practice is essential. We need to pre-script and practice delivering our responses to difficult situations. We need to commit the expression of such arguments to our muscle-memory, so that it becomes the default rather than the exception.
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