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Just say no – firmly – to unethical clients

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Have you ever been asked to do something unethical by one of your prospects or clients?

Have you ever been pressured by a supervisor, manager or owner at your business to do something unethical?

Have you ever observed unethical behavior by a prospect or client?

In today's business world, there are daily instances of unethical behavior. What a sad commentary on business and society.

Over the more than 40 years in my professional career, there have been instances where I have been approached by unethical prospects and clients. The good news is that I have been fortunate to have had strong ethical mentors and supervisors, managers and owners who supported my actions to turn away from the unethical requests and unethical clients and to report them to my superiors.

First-hand experience was gained especially while owning my own business. I made decisions to forego doing business with unethical prospects and clients, and that meant turning away very significant assignments.

One must always ask – what price do you put on your ethics? How can one justify a compromise of his or her personal and professional ethics?

It is essential to have good advice on how to reduce the chance of an improper request from a client or prospect and how to respond when approached by an unethical prospect or client. Here are tips to help guide you:

• Always present and project a professional image that reflects your integrity and your personal and company core values. This does mean always, not some of the time or most of the time.

• Respond directly, clearly and confidently by saying no to unethical requests and unethical prospects and clients.

• Continuously reinforce company and personal core values to everyone in your organization. This is a critical responsibility of owners, managers, supervisors and employees.

• Continuously reinforce the code of ethics of your company to all employees. This requires leadership from the top of the organization. The leader must “walk the talk” when it comes to ethical behavior.

• Never compromise your ethical standards in response to an unethical request. This truly means never, not just when it is beneficial or convenient.

• Remember, it is impossible to “waive” your ethics, in spite of what the Enron corporate board did when it “waived” the company's own ethics requirements.

• Be proactive and report the unethical behavior, prospect and/or client to your supervisor, manager, business owner or other appropriate people.

• Use the “lessons learned” from previous experiences of responding to unethical prospects and clients to help reinforce your ethical standards and as a mentoring and training opportunity.

• Provide positive reinforcement to those who say no to unethical prospects and clients. An intentional committed effort is required that will encourage, rather than discourage, saying no to improper requests.

Stand firm and be firm when dealing with unethical requests and unethical prospects and clients. Just saying no to those unethical requests is great advice.

With a commitment from the organization's leaders, it will help foster an environment that rewards honesty and integrity in one's personal life and work life.

Glenn Ebersole, Professional Engineer, is strategic vice president, business development/marketing and a member of the strategic leadership team at Hollenbach Construction Inc., an award-winning professional design/build construction management and general contractor organization in Boyertown. He can be reached at 610-367-4200 or gebersole@hollenbach.com.

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