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Have you ever wanted to keep your organization from doing something wrong and failed to get your point across? Or, are there times when you could keep your organization out of hot water, but no one will listen? It doesn't help to know right from wrong if you can't influence others to do the right thing.
Utilize these five tactics to get your co-workers' buy-in and influence ethical decisions in your organization.
1. Use the element of surprise
If you want to be a source of influence in important ethical situations, don't constantly point out minor ethical issues or criticize the ethics of your colleagues. Others will perceive that you think you're ethically superior, and you'll have no capital to spend when a truly important ethical issue comes along. Instead, choose your battles. Then, when you call attention to an ethical issue, you'll be more successful if others are surprised to see you taking a stand. They'll understand that this is an issue you regard as truly important.
2. Reason from the outside in
Instead of making your case based only on your own beliefs, which may not be shared by others, make your case in terms of how those outside of the organization may view matters. In this way, you're not asking your colleagues to abandon their beliefs and adopt yours. You're asking them to consider the judgment of other stakeholders. No one wants to admit they're wrong when it comes to ethics. It's easier to admit that others may take a negative view of an action and that this is an important factor to consider.
3. Argue from common goals
Make your case in terms of goals that you probably share with your colleagues. When you try to make an ethical point, people often assume that you don't share their goals. But, at least in the work place, there are usually at least some common goals. Suppose you want to stop cars with a potentially defective ignition switch from going into production. Buttress your position with the observation that it will be bad for the company if this gets out. It is far easier to accept a challenge from someone who is on the same team than it is to accept a challenge from someone playing a different game.
4. Go out in front
When trying to convince others to do the right thing, they may be worried about the consequences to themselves. Make it clear from the outset that you'll do your best to be out in front if there's criticism from above. Be sure that it doesn't look as if you're looking for credit as Mr./Ms. Right. Make it clear that if things go well, the team will get the credit. Once the team understands that you're serious enough about the issue to take risks, your opinions are likely to get more respect.
5. Think ahead
Bad ethical decisions are often made because making a good decision seems more difficult in the short run. When you're trying to influence someone towards a good decision, bring the long-term consequences of what's being decided into the picture. Emphasize how the decision made today eventually will become known and, when it does, there are likely to be consequences.
It's not enough to know what's the right thing to do if you can't influence your colleagues to recognize it as well. It's important to be able to influence others to choose the ethical course. Using these sensible tactics will give you a better chance of influencing ethical decisions in your organization.
Mark Pastin (markpastin.com) is an award-winning ethics thought leader, ethics consultant, and keynote speaker. He's the CEO of the Council of Ethical Organizations, a non-profit dedicated to promoting ethics in business and government. A Harvard-educated ethicist who's received grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, he's published more than 100 articles and written a new book, Make an Ethical Difference: Tools for Better Action (Berrett-Koehler).