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Why is it difficult for some to talk about ethics? Why the stigma?
Network:455



Project and program managers often face complex, multi-dimensional decisions. It is not always easy to know the “right” answer given the myriad of stakeholders and conflicting objectives. Some of these decisions center on ethics--- which can be an uncomfortable topic for many. There might be no better way to clear a room than to mention that you are interested in studying ethical behavior!

The members of PMI Ethics Member Advisory Group, including myself, are tasked with spreading the word about the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. We do this through presentations, webinars, social outreach and discussions, to name a few. We are passionate about helping others have healthy conversations about the topic.

It isn’t always easy. Here is but one example of what I have experienced. A few years back I was researching ethical behavior at a large company. I began my introducing myself and explaining my purpose. People backed off… didn’t want to talk… explained to me that they needed a WITNESS…. or PERMISSION… IF we were going to talk at all. Wow! That was an eye-opener. After some reflection on what I did wrong, I changed my opening to “I am here to research how decisions are made and the challenges that you face on your projects.” I was still studying the same thing, but by NOT using the “E” word (ethics), it became less threatening. People talked… told me about their struggles… told me about how hard it is… about where they go for help.

Can you relate? So, HOW do we openly stimulate conversation about ethics? WHY is there a stigma? How can we have healthy conversations? Let’s open the aperture and talk about it.
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Network:43



I find talking to others about ethics is fascinating, but it's very easy to make it about who's right and who's wrong and to be judgmental. Not to mention that there can be legal, social, or work-related sanctions for being candid.

Do you really think it's safe to for people to stand up in front of their peers and speak truthfully about the ethical dilemmas they face? I think the only truly candid discussion would be on an anonymous forum.
...
2 replies by Jose Harris and Valerie Denney
Oct 12, 2018 3:06 PM
Jose Harris
...
Loretta,
I think you are spot-on about why the reservations: repercussions. Introducing yourself as someone who is studying the ethical behavior of an organization may be inferred by the listener as though you are investigating unethical behavior, actual or implied. Asking about challenges and decisions, on the other hand, may be "safe" for employees -- as many may see themselves more as employees than team members since they are subject to "termination." It's all about perception, regardless of whether it represents reality or not.
On the other hand, some are willing to be candid in an academic freedom, non-attribution forum where trust is prevalent (been there); perhaps even in an open forum if leaders and managers have proven themselves and the organization open to constructive comments (been there too).
Oct 12, 2018 10:06 PM
Valerie Denney
...
Loretta, Great comment. I believe the key is allowing everyone to talk. It is so hard not to judge.... but who are we to judge?

I have seen cultures where facing their peers and open discussion is possible... but it is probably the exception rather than the rule
Network:2579



I think it may be the same as when you are driving along and see a police officer, you immediately slow down, even if you were not speeding, and keep looking to make sure he is not following you. Or the fear of taking a polygraph even if you are not lying. There is a sense of "guilt" many people feel even when they did nothing wrong.
When you mention "ethics", they fear that you are going to find something they did wrong, even when they did not do anything wrong. And also a fear of incriminating others.
So how can we have these conversations?
Let my mind wander for a bit...
Can we make it fun? Some sort of gamification. This could let people relax and their guards will come down and the conversation can continue. I recently suggested having a scavenger hunt at work to help co-workers learn more about what each other do (we are very silo'd here and trying to find ways to break those silos down).
Or maybe, you can set things up like a Choose Your Adventure book https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choose_Your_Own_Adventure where there are many instances in a story that you can choose a path.
Not sure. Just throwing some thoughts out here.
...
1 reply by Valerie Denney
Oct 12, 2018 10:11 PM
Valerie Denney
...
The analogy of a police officer is spot on.

Games are a great way of discussing ethics. Some of my colleagues on the Ethics MAG demonstrated that at the recent PMI Global Conference in Los Angeles.
Network:1358



It's the ethics that add value and meaning to what we do in our profession leading to good governance. The challenge here is to conform to professional and moral standards. The leadership should take up this challenge to promote ethical behaviors at work place. The best way to have a healthy conversation about ethics is to highlight the underlying values. The leaders, who promoted ethical behaviours, were the most successful and they are still remembered by many for their resilience to adhere to ethical practices.
...
1 reply by Valerie Denney
Oct 12, 2018 10:07 PM
Valerie Denney
...
Ah moral standards. Some will define morality as a personal stand, where business ethics is the cultural norm of an organization consistent with laws and standards for the organization.
Network:793



Oct 12, 2018 12:49 PM
Replying to Loretta Pierfelice
...
I find talking to others about ethics is fascinating, but it's very easy to make it about who's right and who's wrong and to be judgmental. Not to mention that there can be legal, social, or work-related sanctions for being candid.

Do you really think it's safe to for people to stand up in front of their peers and speak truthfully about the ethical dilemmas they face? I think the only truly candid discussion would be on an anonymous forum.
Loretta,
I think you are spot-on about why the reservations: repercussions. Introducing yourself as someone who is studying the ethical behavior of an organization may be inferred by the listener as though you are investigating unethical behavior, actual or implied. Asking about challenges and decisions, on the other hand, may be "safe" for employees -- as many may see themselves more as employees than team members since they are subject to "termination." It's all about perception, regardless of whether it represents reality or not.
On the other hand, some are willing to be candid in an academic freedom, non-attribution forum where trust is prevalent (been there); perhaps even in an open forum if leaders and managers have proven themselves and the organization open to constructive comments (been there too).
...
2 replies by Valerie Denney
Oct 12, 2018 10:17 PM
Valerie Denney
...
On the positive side of studying ethics, I have had a number of people come up to me and ask my opinion about how to handle a particular situation. Part of the solution is to have facilitation skills to get the individual to explore it without a perceived "expert" saying "what you should do" or "what you should have done is". Half of the battle is just getting people to talk and explore.
Oct 12, 2018 10:21 PM
Valerie Denney
...
Jose, Great response. It is not whether there is true unethical behavior. That is not really the point of my posting. You said it best--- might be actual or implied and feeling safe to discuss it.

Yes, candid academic freedom is one approach, but trust in business is critical for an individual to have an outlet (without judgment) to discuss and explore. Sometimes that is a manager, or ethics hotline, or ombudsman.
Network:455



Oct 12, 2018 12:49 PM
Replying to Loretta Pierfelice
...
I find talking to others about ethics is fascinating, but it's very easy to make it about who's right and who's wrong and to be judgmental. Not to mention that there can be legal, social, or work-related sanctions for being candid.

Do you really think it's safe to for people to stand up in front of their peers and speak truthfully about the ethical dilemmas they face? I think the only truly candid discussion would be on an anonymous forum.
Loretta, Great comment. I believe the key is allowing everyone to talk. It is so hard not to judge.... but who are we to judge?

I have seen cultures where facing their peers and open discussion is possible... but it is probably the exception rather than the rule
Network:455



Oct 12, 2018 2:43 PM
Replying to Damian Perera
...
It's the ethics that add value and meaning to what we do in our profession leading to good governance. The challenge here is to conform to professional and moral standards. The leadership should take up this challenge to promote ethical behaviors at work place. The best way to have a healthy conversation about ethics is to highlight the underlying values. The leaders, who promoted ethical behaviours, were the most successful and they are still remembered by many for their resilience to adhere to ethical practices.
Ah moral standards. Some will define morality as a personal stand, where business ethics is the cultural norm of an organization consistent with laws and standards for the organization.
Network:455



Oct 12, 2018 1:57 PM
Replying to Dinah Young
...
I think it may be the same as when you are driving along and see a police officer, you immediately slow down, even if you were not speeding, and keep looking to make sure he is not following you. Or the fear of taking a polygraph even if you are not lying. There is a sense of "guilt" many people feel even when they did nothing wrong.
When you mention "ethics", they fear that you are going to find something they did wrong, even when they did not do anything wrong. And also a fear of incriminating others.
So how can we have these conversations?
Let my mind wander for a bit...
Can we make it fun? Some sort of gamification. This could let people relax and their guards will come down and the conversation can continue. I recently suggested having a scavenger hunt at work to help co-workers learn more about what each other do (we are very silo'd here and trying to find ways to break those silos down).
Or maybe, you can set things up like a Choose Your Adventure book https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choose_Your_Own_Adventure where there are many instances in a story that you can choose a path.
Not sure. Just throwing some thoughts out here.
The analogy of a police officer is spot on.

Games are a great way of discussing ethics. Some of my colleagues on the Ethics MAG demonstrated that at the recent PMI Global Conference in Los Angeles.
Network:455



Oct 12, 2018 3:06 PM
Replying to Jose Harris
...
Loretta,
I think you are spot-on about why the reservations: repercussions. Introducing yourself as someone who is studying the ethical behavior of an organization may be inferred by the listener as though you are investigating unethical behavior, actual or implied. Asking about challenges and decisions, on the other hand, may be "safe" for employees -- as many may see themselves more as employees than team members since they are subject to "termination." It's all about perception, regardless of whether it represents reality or not.
On the other hand, some are willing to be candid in an academic freedom, non-attribution forum where trust is prevalent (been there); perhaps even in an open forum if leaders and managers have proven themselves and the organization open to constructive comments (been there too).
On the positive side of studying ethics, I have had a number of people come up to me and ask my opinion about how to handle a particular situation. Part of the solution is to have facilitation skills to get the individual to explore it without a perceived "expert" saying "what you should do" or "what you should have done is". Half of the battle is just getting people to talk and explore.
Network:455



Oct 12, 2018 3:06 PM
Replying to Jose Harris
...
Loretta,
I think you are spot-on about why the reservations: repercussions. Introducing yourself as someone who is studying the ethical behavior of an organization may be inferred by the listener as though you are investigating unethical behavior, actual or implied. Asking about challenges and decisions, on the other hand, may be "safe" for employees -- as many may see themselves more as employees than team members since they are subject to "termination." It's all about perception, regardless of whether it represents reality or not.
On the other hand, some are willing to be candid in an academic freedom, non-attribution forum where trust is prevalent (been there); perhaps even in an open forum if leaders and managers have proven themselves and the organization open to constructive comments (been there too).
Jose, Great response. It is not whether there is true unethical behavior. That is not really the point of my posting. You said it best--- might be actual or implied and feeling safe to discuss it.

Yes, candid academic freedom is one approach, but trust in business is critical for an individual to have an outlet (without judgment) to discuss and explore. Sometimes that is a manager, or ethics hotline, or ombudsman.

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