The Ethics of Influence in the Workplace

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  • 0:03 Power and Ethics
  • 1:42 Willingness in Ethical…
  • 3:05 Information on Ethical…
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Corinne Keer
Influencing others means using power over them to achieve your goals, which can be hard to do fairly. Learn how to ethically influence people in the workplace to ensure that both you and they can benefit from the relationship.

Power and Ethics

Imagine working at a job where everyone else behaved exactly as you wanted them to. Wouldn't that be great? No one would disagree with you, no one would overrule you - and, most importantly, every decision made would be in your benefit. Nothing would stand in your way!

Coming back to reality, you probably don't work in a place like that, and there are a couple reasons why. First of all, every single person is an individual with differing ideas and perspectives - so it's really unlikely that you'd all agree on one person's ideas all the time. Second of all, if you had the power to influence, or effect others' behavior, with no consequences or dissenting opinions, you might not always make ethical decisions and even potentially cause others to make unethical decisions as well!

Ethics refer to the distinctions between right and wrong that groups of people use to guide behavior and make decisions. Ethical behavior can be different depending on what group is involved. For example, ethical behavior in the United States includes obeying laws and being a good citizen. Ethical behavior in your family might involve respecting your parents and taking care of younger children. An important part of ethics is that everyone in the group agrees upon these rules and understands how they're used to help the group.

So let's go back to our workplace scenario. You used your influence to make everyone you work with give up their power of decision making to you. Was that ethical behavior? In other words, is it likely that everyone agreed to that arrangement by their own free will and that they understand how it benefits the group as a whole?

Willingness in Ethical Influencing

We all have to do things that we don't want to do sometimes, and usually we're okay with that. We understand that, no matter what we want to do instead, some things just need to get done. Doing laundry is a good example: most people are willing to do it, even though they might not really want to, because no one likes wearing dirty clothes!

Being willing to do something is an important part of ethical influence. For example, you might ask your coworker Dave to copy, staple, and mail a newsletter to all your company's customers. Dave probably doesn't really want to do this; it's not a very interesting or glamorous task. But Dave's also a good employee, and he knows that keeping customers informed of the company's news is important for maintaining a good relationship with them. You're using your influence over Dave to get him to help you out, but he's willing to do the project because he knows it's good for the group. This is an example of ethical influencing.

On the other hand, you might ask Eva, another coworker, to find out information about a competitor by posing as a potential customer. Eva doesn't want to deceive anyone, so she asks for a different assignment. You tell Eva that she's endangering her job security by not following instructions, so she goes ahead with the project anyway. In this case, your influence over Eva was unethical, because she was unwilling to agree to the assignment but didn't have the power to refuse.

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