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7 Ways To Respond When Your Boss Asks You To Do Something Unethical

Source | FastCompany : By STACEY GAWRONSKI

You’re not going to be thrilled with every assignment you’re given, with every task you’re asked to carry out, with every project you’re instructed to oversee. That’s the reality of having a job. It’s a lot like life—you take the good with the bad and the annoying or boring.

But, navigating tedious responsibilities or work that doesn’t stoke your fire is a far cry from handling a request from your boss that requires you to basically throw a colleague under the bus. If your manager approaches you about taking one for the team, framing it as an item that’s simply part of your job and something that has to be done, you’re probably not going to feel good about it.

If you have any kind of moral compass and a reluctance to injure a team member’s reputation or inaccurately blame a coworker for a project gone wrong, then you’ll likely want to find a way to say no to your supervisorwithout risking your position at the company.

Seven Muse Career Coaches weighed in with excellent advice for handling this tricky situation. Just because the request isn’t illegal or even really unethical doesn’t mean you have no choice but to heed the demand. There’s a big picture here, and if you ignore it just to appease your manager, you could come to regret it later.


Share with your boss what you think the task is so that you are 100% clear about her request. Saying it aloud before acting on it may also help your manager see why and how she’s put you in an uncomfortable position. If, after repeating it, you’re still expected to carry out the request and you’re feeling apprehensive, speak up. Clearly, tell your boss—face-to-face is best—why you’re not cool with it.

Avery Blank


If you find yourself in this awkward situation, one of the most powerful strategies you can deploy is asking probing questions. Skilled conflict mediators know that digging for information about the other person’s agenda, interests, and needs increases the chance of arriving at a favorable solution.

Put on your negotiator hat and say to your boss with confidence, “I’m not sure I grasp the reasoning behind sharing those details with the entire company. Can you help me understand the approach?” This expresses interest and curiosity on your part, while also subtly communicating an assertion of boundaries, maturity, and professionalism.

You’re demonstrating that you make informed, measured decisions. Using psychologically disarming questioning ensures neither side becomes defensive and helps you set the stage for a fruitful back-and-forth dialogue with your boss.

Melody Wilding

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