So you’ve been wronged. Now and then we all have to deal with someone being dishonest. I just had to. And while it’s very frustrating, a friend of mine reminded me that “it is hard to protect yourself from a lie.” That is, no matter how you cut it, no amount of due diligence will protect you from the ill effects of someone not being straight with you. Ethics and integrity are oft-written-about topics when it comes to leadership, but that doesn’t mean that all leaders (or anyone for that matter) make the translation to their own actions. We all have experiences where leaders did not do what they said they would do, said one thing up the chain of command and another thing down the chain of command, or even flat-out did something dishonest.
You can let it bother you and eat at you all day or you can move ahead with strength. Natural inclinations often prevent us from doing the latter. But, recognizing that integrity of character has many facets, and that there are often multiple truths in any situation, here are the ways you can productively deal with behavior that is dishonest or lacking in integrity.
1. Understand the impact it has on you. By assessing the impact it has on you, and the implication of whatever dishonest behavior you experience, you are able to evaluate the extent to which tangible and intangible damage has been done. Sometimes it is quite minor, only causing you to be dissatisfied with someone, and other times there is real negative impact, like reputation damage or even financial loss. I am currently coaching someone who has emerged from a challenging situation that may result in her filing a lawsuit. In order to appropriately judge whether the risk of filing suit is worth it, she needs to get very clear about the damage caused by the other party. Determining the real impact on you allows you to plan a course of action that is commensurate with the foul. Simply understanding that the impact is not that significant, though it may still be upsetting, may lead you to decide that it is not worth addressing. Additionally, you may determine that even if the foul is considerable, that the situation is not likely to lead to a productive resolution for you. For instance, if you have been lied to and there is not much you can do about it, assessing the damage prepares you to you lick your wounds and move on.
2. Confront the behavior. Notice I did not say the person, though the two are linked. When dealing with a transgression of nearly any kind, it is always best to focus on the situation or behavior, and not the person. For instance, as the person I have been coaching said to the person who wronged her, “What you have done here is overreaching your authority (behavior) and does not keep with the spirit of our agreement (situation).” That is far more effective than the far more personal “You are a liar and a thief.” Most everyone believes that they act with high integrity and ethics. In my previous company, we evaluated thousands of leaders in this area and almost all of them rated themselves higher than anyone else did. So use that to your advantage and focus on a specific behavior or situation if you want to be heard. Otherwise, your voice will be competing with their internal voice, and you can guess which will be the loudest.
3. Take action to address the impact. Sometimes the knee-jerk reaction is to skip right to action and fire our missiles. But if you slow down, and, plan a course of action that is commensurate with the foul, you can move ahead to seek some kind of redress. That action may range from requesting a simple apology if the issue is relatively minor, to legal action if there are real financial damages. Either way, you will feel better if you are able to confidently stand up for what you believe is right. Now, here is the kicker—you may not get what you request. And there may not be anything you can do about that. In the case I mentioned above, my client determined (with legal counsel,) that her probability of a successful lawsuit was only about 50/50. But she felt that standing for what she believed in and taking action was important in helping her to move past the situation. Of course, if the actions don’t yield the outcome you desire, then it is time to deal with the disappointment that ensues. Regardless, eventually you move to step four…
4. Move Forward. At some point, preferably as soon as possible, you will want to put this situation in the rear-view mirror. When we feel wronged it is easy to fixate on the problem and get emotionally attached to the issue. Assessing the impact, confronting the behavior, and then taking action can help you to move ahead, knowing that you did what you could to appropriately address the situation. I’m not saying it is easy to do, but it is the last step and crucial element to taking your own power back. You may have been negatively impacted by someone’s unethical behavior, but if you have done these things in an integrity-rich way, you can be the one standing proudly.