THE PEOPLE I WORK with are perfectly comfortable violating standards and turning a blind eye to rules. I usually don t say anything because I don t want to be the odd person out. It s not like you can take on the world all by yourself.
When you choose to violate a standard practice, depending on the severity of the violation, you re exposing yourself and others to a whole range of risks. For instance, you re a nurse watching a doctor go into a sterile area with very sick babies, and he begins to examine them without gloves or a mask. This, of course, can lead to infections. Or you re an accountant watching colleagues willfully disobey standard practices to satisfy a customer. This could misinform investors and land you in jail. Or you re an employee watching everyone violate a safety procedure, and nobody says anything because everyone is in a hurry to meet an important deadline.
In each of these cases you feel as if you re in one of those conformity studies in which everyone before you says that two obviously different lines are identical and now it s your turn to speak up. Do you do what you think is right and take on your entire work group , or do you go with the flow?
The reason you re unwilling to say anything is probably that what you re about to say isn t very pretty. In your view, people are doing what is easy rather than what is right, and in fact they may be doing exactly that. Nevertheless, if you lead with this unsubstantiated accusation, it s not going to go down well:
Hey, are we going to follow the regulations on this, or are we just going to sell out and run the risk of killing some people?
As satisfying as this patronizing attack may feel, it s not going to be well received. People may comply , but you ve just driven a huge wedge into the relationship. Tell yourself a different story. Maybe others know something you don t know. Maybe they re feeling pressured just as you are. Maybe you just don t know all the facts. Who knows what they re thinking?
One thing is for certain: Seeing yourself as the only one with a conscience or a backbone and then acting on that story is sure to make you come across as self- righteous . It s surely going to provoke other people s resentment and resistance. How could it not? Change your story, and your behavior will change along with it. Ask yourself why reasonable, rational, and decent people are doing what they re doing.
Open the confrontation by acknowledging the competing motivations, and do it in a way that humanizes those who might be leaning in the wrong direction:
I know it s inconvenient to suit up for quick and unobtrusive exams.
Then use a Contrasting statement to eliminate a possible misunderstanding:
I don t want this to come off as an accusation; it s an honest question. Aren t we supposed to (fill in the blank), or are there circumstances I m unaware of?
These simple sentences take the pressure off you. You don t have to be the police. You don t have to be moral or ethical or stronger-willed. You don t even have to be right. You just have to be curious , and that s a good thing.
If people could find a way to use these simple techniques every time they feel peer pressure to do what they know is wrong, they could save millions of dollars, thousands of lives, and countless other forms of suffering.