Sunday, April 15, 2018

Should one person's behavior result in another's meddling?


Last fall, a reader, let's call him Wade, had a run-in with a woman we'll call Helen, during a meeting of a local nonprofit that supplied services to the area. Wade sat on the board and Helen was a resident of one of the communities seeking services. As Wade recalls it, when it came time for Helen to address the board, the tone turned accusatory, suggesting that her requests had been overlooked.

"Did you make a written request?" Wade recalls asking, to which he recalls Helen suggesting that she shouldn't have to because she had been quite vocal about her requests in the past and the board knew what they were, adding that the whole community was behind her.

After explaining that the process required written requests, Helen expressed her displeasure, but insisted she would have a written request submitted to the board by its next meeting. Several board meetings have taken place since. No written request was ever submitted by Helen.

Now, Helen is running for an elected office in her community. Wade does not reside in that community so he gets no vote. But he does have friends and colleagues who live there. Wade still rankles from Helen's behavior at the fall nonprofit board meeting. He is tempted to urge his friends and colleagues who live in Helen's town to vote for her opponent.

But Wade has discovered that where Helen's stance on many of the issues mirror those he would care about in his own town, her opponent's views are the type he'd typically vehemently oppose. He's never met the opponent and has no idea if he too has irked someone at a meeting.

"Should I still urge people not to vote for her?" asks Wade, "even though I don't live in their community and, on the issues, she and I agree?"

Wow. Wade sure holds a grudge.

If Wade believes it's important for those he knows who have a vote to know of an incident where Helen might not have followed up as rapidly as he would have liked, he has every right to let them know. But if he's going to delve into business which is really not his own, then he might also add that he has no beef with Helen when it comes to the platform on which she is running for office. Her opponent's views on the other hand? As long as he's weighing in, Wade's associates might find it useful to know that he finds his views on the issues abhorrent.

Urging them not to vote at all rather than to vote for Helen would be unacceptable.

Instead, if he feels strongly enough about it, Wade can tell his friends about his run-in with Helen, perhaps add that he'd be hard-pressed to vote for her ever for anything, but that his views are based more on personality than on the issues facing the town. That might make Wade feel better, but it would be of little use to those who actually have the right to vote in the election.

The right thing for his friends to do is learn as much about the candidates and issues as they can, and then to vote for the person they believe can do the best job. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, April 08, 2018

If I've offended you, I'm sorry


"I'm sorry. I was wrong."

"Thank you for your apology."

There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Is it wrong not to apologize when being called out on some deed or transgression? It's a question that looms large lately with news reports of harassment, bullying, turning a blind eye, and assorted bad behavior from well-known players in various walks of life.

Sometimes taking responsibility for a bad act may arouse fear of losing credibility or livelihood. But sitting silent when the evidence suggests that, at the very least, an apology is called for, often results in chipping even more away at a reputation built.

A non-apology apology ("I'm sorry if any of my actions caused [assorted names here] to believe I did something wrong") often only serves to fuel the perception that the non-apologizer has behaved badly.

In the early 1990s, when I was working as an editor at a business magazine, we would often invite founders of startup companies to join our editorial team for an informal lunch. While these lunches didn't always turn into stories, they did provide opportunities for us to get to know people who were doing interesting things in the marketplace.

At one lunch, the founder of a company that made children's toys visited us. There was nothing remarkable about the lunch. We asked questions about where the founder got the idea for the company, how she planned for it to grow, and why she thought it might succeed in a market where no one had yet tried the approach she was taking.

The founder became a runner-up in a founder-of-the-year-type program we ran, but a couple of years later I ran into her at an industry conference and, after greeting her, learned that she found the lunch with us to be demoralizing because she found us to be condescending in our questions. That wasn't our intention, but rather than explain that it was our job to ask probing questions I simply said, "I'm sorry."

Clearly, there are times when apologizing would be wrong. If accused of doing something of which you know you are not guilty, holding fast is in order. When Socrates was accused of corrupting Athen's youth, he may have defended himself, but he never apologized, if his student Plato's account is trusted. Things didn't end well for Socrates (see hemlock/death), but he died sticking to his story.

When a well-known newscaster took aim on Twitter at a teenage activist last month because he shared on Twitter that he hadn't been accepted to several colleges, the teenager successfully convinced some of the newscaster's advertisers to pull advertisements from her show. Only after these advertisers acted did the newscaster sort of offer an apology. If the student wanted to go high in response, he simply could have responded, "thanks," even if he kept up the effort to influence her advertisers.

If adults want to model good ethical behavior for teenagers attempting to do good, the right thing is to be honest and forthright in their apologies if they discover they erred. If we're going to own our successes, we should also own our shortcomings. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Should one person's behavior result in another's meddling?

Last fall, a reader, let's call him Wade, had a run-in with a woman we'll call Helen, during a meeting of a local nonprofit that...