Tech SoftwareNavigating ethical 🩶 areas in project management

Navigating ethical 🩶 areas in project management

One thing that is very clear when it comes to project management is that nobody likes to be told that they are being unethical. As a project manager, telling a member of your team that their performance isn’t as it should be can be hard enough. Telling them that you believe their conduct to be unethical is even more complicated and this isn’t something you will learn on all training courses for project managers.

There has been plenty of research to indicate that when it comes to seeing themselves as ethical people have a very strong desire for this to be the case. Oddly, one such survey indicated that a group of prisoners, when asked, considered themselves to be more ethical than the “average person.” There can be occasions when we don’t act the way we know we should, however on the whole individuals tend to try and find ways to make sure that the way in which they act doesn’t have an effect on how they are perceived. 

Managing grey areas

All of this raises something of a conundrum when it comes to managing what is often referred to as “grey area” behaviour within the workplace. It is often necessary for a manager to address areas of inappropriate behaviour amongst team members, holding them accountable to the standards of the organisation and even addressing business practises on more ethical grounds. Simply diving into the issue and telling someone that you believe they are behaving in an unethical manner is likely to not be received well or elicit the results that you are hoping for. As experts such as those at Parallel Project Training will tell you, when you do this peoples defences go up. They may stop listening or they may seek to find ways to show you are wrong and they are right. This obviously results in a situation where they can become even more determined to behave that way rather than change. 

It is important to address behaviour on ethical grounds. It can be an important source of motivation and offers a reason why actions should follow values and standards. The problem is knowing how to do this in a way that ensures that team members are not defensive and that there is no significant fallout as a result of tackling the issue. 

Ways to challenge unethical behaviour

“Grey area” behaviour can unfortunately become embedded into what an organisation sees as part of the norms of its culture. Ethical blind spots and rather slippery slopes often mean that this type of behaviour can go unchecked and unnoticed. And this will in turn result in the possibility of greater malpractice somewhere along the line.

It is important to create conversations around behaviour that is considered within a “grey area,” and this should consider ethical slip-ups as something which will almost certainly happen, but which are preventable. The conversation should also consider the fact that the right way to do things isnt always a clear cut thing, and that for the most part the ethical grey areas that you might find yourself dealing with are those which will benefit from the type of adjustments that can be made through feedback and reflection. 

Let’s take a look at 6 ways in which you can look to challenge these types of behaviour:

1.Use positive emotion

Rather than creating a culture of guilt around any negative behaviour it is important to consider linking behaviour-change messaging to the sense of pride that could be felt around more positive behaviour in the future. Think of it as looking forward to the things that can be done better rather than dwelling on the things that went badly in the past. 

2.Focus on action

Targeting individual people will never end well. You will simply end up antagonising them and this has the potential to make the situation worse. It is much better to focus your attention on targeting the behaviour itself, and on a team or organisation-wide basis. This will help to reinforce the message to everyone that this is unacceptable behaviour rather than just singling out individuals.

3.Seek to identify

It is important to make sure that you are not ostracising people as a result of their behaviour, but rather that you look to find where the ethical slip-ups are occurring. We are all human and sometimes this means getting things wrong. By tackling the issue in this manner you will get much better results. 

4.Nudge rather than confront

Rather than using direct challenges, you should gently nudge those who need it. This will allow them to modify their behaviour without feeling as though they are being confronted with a strong message that characterises them as someone who is unethical. 

5. Take it step by step

It is much better to take things step by step in small increments rather than diving right in and making radical changes. This will allow individuals to engage with the issue in a way that is much less black and white. 

6.Target motivations

It can be a good idea to challenge the perceived need for this type of behaviour. This allows your team members to see that there can be viable alternatives, and this will help to reduce resistance. 

Sadly, it is never easy to have difficult conversations in the workplace about behaviour that is inappropriate, but it is often necessary to do so. Taking the time to prepare the way in which you approach the problem and having the right tools in your arsenal will help to make these conversations a little easier. This will help you to turn these awkward conversations into a moment of insight and growth. It will also help you to make sure that all of the relationships within your team, and the wider organisation are protected because everyone feels understood and safe. 

It can be worth looking into ways in which you can create a more ethical culture within your organisation so that you can help avoid some of these issues before they even come up. 

 

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