Part 4 of the Speak-up series

Ethical problems can be complex and difficult to resolve. If we want to address an ethical issue with another person, we can easily give that person the feeling that we question their moral identity (“You are a bad person!”). Therefore, we have a tendency to avoid the topic, if we have not practiced facing them effectively before. That is why preparing, practicing and rehearing a speak-up conversation is so important. Yes, I do recommend that you rehearse your critical ethics conversation with a trusted person.

Here is a guideline on how to prepare well:

  • Research the facts:
    It is crucial to not prepare a meeting on a sensitive issue, if you are already convinced that the other side has bad motives. The other person will sense this and automatically get defensive. Thus, effective solution finding is blocked. So do look at the facts like in a documentary film and try to understand the other side without judging. No interpretations, no judgements! Imagine you are a doctor and need to come up with a diagnose. For example: Somebody cuts you off your parking spot. You assume that the person is a selfish jerk. Then this person comes up to you and apologizes: His wife is in the shopping center and needs to go to the hospital. (This process of automatic judgment of others’ behavior is called the «Ladder of Inference». You can watch this TED video clip that explains it beautifully
  • Improve your power:
    Show your boss, that you are a valuable and loyal employee not a trouble-maker and that you have a legitimate concern.We all can improve our power even in the most powerless of situations.
    This anecdote about Nelson Mandela perfectly illustrates this idea: When Nelson Mandela was in prison on Robben Island he got up every morning at 4 a.m. to do his boxing exercises. He was a trained boxer and staying fit gave him a source of strength and dignity in his unfree and humiliating prison situation. He also had studied all the rules and policies of the prison organization. He knew all his rights and privileges but also the limitations of what his guards were allowed to do. This enabled him to cite the exact numbers and wordings of these rules in situations of conflict.
  • Proper timing and place:
    We all know that there are times where we are just not receptive for critical comments. Think about the time when you wanted to talk to your patents about a bad grade…You did not do that, when they were tired, in a bad mood or watching the news. Chose the right moment. Furthermore, private meetings are better than team sessions. If possible, meeting at a neutral place can help, too.
  • Problem and solution always go together:
    Try to already have ideas on potential solutions for the problem when you address an ethics an