Three steps plan for dealing with unethical behavior

We all have met it in our lives – unethical behavior. We see it in our work, in the groups we are part of, sometimes even in our relatives and family members.

This behavior is expected when the people around us are emotional. The strongest emotion we all desire so much is the joy of winning. The number of people who want to be winners and feel significant, no matter the consequences for the other side, overpasses the number of people who show humble behavior with care for others. According to an American employer association report from 2019, the number of people who show unethical behavior in an area of their lives overpasses 70%. It looks scary at first, but think of it from a different perspective. If we all demonstrate ethical behavior, where will the progress be? Part of breaking the norms is causing improvement and innovation to happen. Breaking the rules and unusually making something boosts energy and will for change and growth.

Together with that, unethical behavior is a matter of understanding and interpreting what ethical means. There are universal norms offered by society and companies, but still, we decide to speak and act when our patience is over.

There are many methods people use; around the world, you will read about different techniques to deal with unethical behavior. I am offering you three steps I have learned in my life and successfully apply when dealing with unethical behavior.


The reason why unethical behavior leaves is that we do not signal when we see it. I have had a colleague see it in several department’s management team members we were working together. She shared her concerns with me and angrily reacted to that when we were alone, but did not want to speak up when the whole team was coming together. In 2014 we had engagement survey results that were embarrassing for the department director. An HR team whose engagement result was lower than the shop floor workers’ engagement rate was not a good option for her.  At the meeting, the results were shared; the HR director stands in front of the team explaining how disappointed she was because we were disengaged. Although she and one of the other operational managers in HR were responsible for the engagement rate across the country’s company operations, they have missed the department accountable for sustaining that engagement. My colleagues were still and did not know what to say, or they did not want to say anything because they did not believe someone will hear them. I was late for the meeting because of a meeting with several of my internal clients, and when I arrived, the situation looked as if someone has died. Ten people were sitting in the room, looking at the table and an angry HR director, explaining how disappointed she was from us all. She insisted someone start talking, but no one wanted to create.

I have turned to her and started explaining why we were so disengaged. I shared several examples of what made us feel that way and how much we did not see the light in the tunnel. At the end of what I said, the HR director was like hit wet wipe. Fortunately, that opened others to speak, and at the end of the almost three hours meeting, we came with a structured plan on how to change the situation.

While this story is true, I refer to it when wanting to help others change the status quo. Maybe you do not like what you see or what you hear, or you decided that no matter what you say, nothing will change. And you’re so wrong. If you want to change the situation or point on not ethical behavior, you will need to speak up according to your standards and values. Keeping the feelings for yourself does not help either you or the other party. Sharing how someone’s actions and behavior have made you feel is a good start point for an upcoming change.


We tend to delay in time what we want to say in the direction of unethical behavior. But with time passing, things start to disappear or change in our minds. We forget the exact words, change the behavior’s description, and put some info from us into what happened. That often causes a conflict between the person we want to give feedback about unethical behavior and us. Everyone has been in such a situation when the other person, pointed as an unethical , starts accusing us that we have changed the context of the situation, what he or she said or did, and the reason for that action.

An excellent technique to save you from such development of the situation is after you witness unethical behavior compared to your values and standards to write it down. Write everything – the time, the case, the specifics of the action, your and other person’s reaction. That will save you from being accused that you have been trying to change the reality in your favor. Examples are what make our point stronger in such situations.


Sharing the information you have collected for unethical behavior is a process that has its rules. Every one of us has tried at least once to do it straight and probably has failed. Sharing information about unethical behavior is like sending someone to the electric chair. The person may not have understood that the action has looked unethical for you or may not have been familiar with the standards and the rules valid in the situation. Pointing directly to him or she is an opportunity for a cold war. Instead, you will need to indicate the behavior, show the negatives from it, and not describe the person who has shown it. To shine light means to explain how this behavior is not corresponding with the ethical standards and values you try to communicate with the world around you. That will give the person self-esteem and make them believe that your words are not toward them and you do not have anything against them as personalities.

And building that attitude is the light you need to enlighten the road toward changing unethical behavior.


Nonethical behavior is a serious issue we need not let back. If not active when we see such behavior, we can quickly turn into silent supporters of that behavior.


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