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Ethics Training Tips: Strategies for Handling Tough Questions


Patrick Shepherd: Good afternoon and welcome
to the advanced practitioner’s series. My name is Patrick Sheppard. I’m very pleased to join you today to discuss
a follow-on presentation to last month’s practitioner series where and we shared with you ten scenarios
you can use to enhance your annual ethics training. We received some feedback after that session
and some requests to sort of show you how it’s done, how we can put these scenarios
to work in our agencies delivering annual ethics training and having good discussions. I think one of the major barriers to using
these kinds of tools is the sort of concerns that you’re going to deal with difficult questions. When we invite our audience and our participants
and our fellow employees to engage with us and discuss their experiences in the workplace
we open up the possibility that discussions will go places that aren’t entirely under
our control. So what we want to do today is show you some
of the common scenarios, the common problems that you’ll run into in the classroom and
some ways that you can approach those and turn them around and make them effective learning
points. So we’re going to spend about half an hour
going through five or six different scenarios. I want to point some things out before we
get started. One it if you tuned in last month you’ll
remember the primary objective of our annual ethics training presentation was to help employees
know when and how to ask for ethics advice and that’s going to be very important as
we enter our discussions. We’re going to want to make sure that were
confining our learning points to achieving that objective and we’re not teaching the
on the objective. So our goal is to help our employees recognize
ethic situations and realize when they need to seek ethics advice and then know how to
do that and what information they’re going to need to bring with us. If we get that objective at the fore throughout
our teaching exercises we will be more successful. So we want you to keep that in mind as we
go through. I want to point out some best practices that
we’re going to be demonstrating in the classroom today. When we click over to the second camera and
see our live audience you’ll see that all of them have nametags. I realize it’s not always possible in a large
auditorium but if you have a small group and you can provide some blank nametags for people
to fill out. It’s very helpful because it allows you to
address your employees or participant by their names which creates better learning outcomes
and better engagement and this is really sort of friendlier for everyone. We did suggest last month that this can be
done. These tools can be used in a large auditorium,
but if you have not used them before we would also recommend that you start with a small
group. So you can get the feel for how they work
and understand the flow of the conversation a little bit in a manageable room. So if you’re thinking about putting these
to work if you can start with a small group you’ll have a better experience I think and
then you can sort of expand and use them in a large-format setting. We would like to do a demonstration of that
at a later date, but today we’re going to be working in small groups. We going to be showing you with the aid of
two scenarios how sometimes the conversation can fall down, the discussion can slow, and
how the instructor can restart and redirect those conversations to a productive place. For the folks who were listening in on the
phone and I like to apologize up front. There are a number speakers in the room her,
and we are various distances from the conference phone so if you’re not able to hear some people
we apologize. You may find it easier just to watch the YouTube
recording after the end of the broadcast. Maybe at home or on your own device because
of the visuals this can be a difficult presentation to follow, but we do want to make the option
available. Likewise all of these presentations, this
presentation like all of our the presentations is available on the YouTube channel at YouTube.Com/OGInstitute
so if you miss previous broadcasts you can check that out anytime you like and this podcast
will be available there immediately upon completion of the live presentation. We’d also like to remind everyone that next
month is the National Government Ethics Summit and if you’re not able to join us in Washington
DC we will be live streaming three full days of content so even if you can join us here
we hope you’ll enjoy a join us for the virtual Summit. So we have assembled today a group of employees,
who are going to be our audience they’re going to be our students as if we were delivering
annual ethics training. They’re going to help us to illustrate some
common difficulties that we run into in annual ethics training classes. The first one we’re to look is what happens
when you ask a question of your audience and nothing happens, they just look back at you
say why I have no idea. So how do we manage that as an instructor
if our whole plan centers around developing engagement and being responsive to the needs
our audience? So let’s take a look at that and see how
it might work. Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to annual ethics training. My name is Patrick Shepherd. Today our goal is to help you guys learn about
when and how you can see ethics advice. So we want you to be able to identify places
where you need ethics advice and we want to know how to move forward and actually seek
the advice that you need, and the way we’re going to do that is by presenting you with
some challenges or scenarios that you might find yourself in real life, and asking you
to think forward from those scenarios and see if you can imagine a time which you might
need ethics advice. So our first situation I think is one that
might be familiar to us. So imagine we all go home from work today,
and work kitchen toward your spouse and spouse suggests that our neighbor’s daughter is going
to be home for the summer and is looking for an internship in the DC area. So that’s our entire scenario. Can you see a set of circumstances or some
might come out of this that would require you to seek the advice of ethics official
in our agency? Let’s start a little bit smaller. Who has internship programs in your offices
or in your part of our agency? Who’s had interns maybe last year? You guys have interns, excellent, and when
you have insurance where you put the information about internships? Do you guys use like USA jobs or have a website,
how do you let students know that internships are available? Female Speaker: We usually put it on the website. Patrick Shephard: Excellent. So let’s start with an easy ethics question. Do you think sharing the link to the internship
page on the website will be a problem under the ethics rules? Female Speaker: Wow. I mean anybody can look at our website, so
why would that be a problem? Patrick Shephard: That’s exactly right. That would be no problem. So one avenue that we could take from this
scenario would be to share the website, the information about our church and programs
with the agency with the neighbor. You know, so that’s a great place to start
if you’re wondering what can I do to help that would be no problem, that’s a great strategy. Can any of you think of a situation where
our assistance to our neighbor’s daughter would maybe be problematic under the ethics
rules, or any other standards that we have in the agency? Female Speaker: Well maybe if you slipped
around some way to someone in your agency. Patrick Shephard: We might want to think about
you know if we’re to give someone a resume. Certainly if we’re going to intercede in
the hiring practice. We want to make sure they were maintaining
fair hiring standards. Female Speaker: So you’re saying that you
can’t recommend somebody for an intern ship? I mean that’s absurd on its face. I mean like you know, how do people get internships? That’s how people get interns. I mean like am I right here? This is how people get internships, right? Patrick Shephard: Yeah. So what do you guys think? Who has written a letter of recommendation
for a colleague or for someone else federal? Yeah. All the time, happens all the time. Arguably part of our federal job. If you supervise people and you have employees
move on, you definitely want to be able to recommend them. And there are some standard you want to abide
by if you want to issue a letter of recommendation. So if you’re thinking about it, come talk
to us and we’ll tell you when you can use agency letterhead, when you can you your title,
and when you unofficial time. So that would be an area where advice might
be appropriate, interceding in their hiring process problem, we don’t want to do that,
but sharing information is definitely a okay. So we have sort of a spectrum and you guys
I think are on the right track. So you can see in this last scenario that
we had a room that was maybe unsure of how to respond to the situation and you’ll find
this to be common if you put this kind of ethics training to work in your agency. I think a lot of it has to do with the conditioning
of our employees in traditional ethics training or computer based training that people have
taken. We often give them a set of circumstances
that look like an ethics violation. So we have trained them to be good at recognizing
behavior that is violative of the ethics rules. And we change the objective around to ask
them to find places where they can ask advice or anticipating place where they can ask advice,
it can be a little bit of a change so you need to be patient. Another thing that you want to be mindful
of, especially in the beginning of the class, is that people are settling in. They may not know each other, they’re strangers,
and they may be a little reluctant to engage initially, and as an instructor it feels like
an eternity to ask a question and then wait patiently for a response, but I promise you
that it is not as long as it seems and indeed your employees your participants are thinking
the situation. They need some time to think and muster up
their courage to talk in front of their colleagues and you can make that process easier by narrowing
the question. So you’ll notice in this last example, I
started with a very broad open-ended question that anyone could respond to, but it did require
some sort of special knowledge or thinking. It looks like our employees were engaged in
for that long pause and I did them a favor I asked him a very simple yes/no question,
and the way you can develop engagement with yes/no questions is one to ask a very specific
question that has a yes or no answer that’s specific to their circumstance. So in this case I asked “who had interns
last summer?” And I raise my hand to suggest those people
who had had interns last summer should do likewise and indeed Bernadette raised her
hand, and now that she has her hand in the air I was very comfortable calling upon her
to say, “You know Bernadette, how do interns find out where they might find internship?” Also that was sort of a starting point for
our conversation. So if you find a room that’s just been quiet
looking to use and I’m not sure what you’re asking try asking a narrower question that
everyone knows the answer to. Ask people to show their hands and asked him
why they have done so. So that’s a good strategy for dealing with
a nonresponsive audience. In these next two scenarios we’re to look
at something a little different. What happens when you have people who just
don’t really want to be in ethics training? Maybe they think it’s silly, or the topic
at hand isn’t really interesting to them. How do we take those challenges and turn them
into opportunities in the classroom. In the next two, we’re to look at two ways
that we can do that. And we’re going to be using the same scenario
again so you can sort of see a different response. Alright, so we’re going to move on to our
next scenario guys, and the scenario is this: you come home tonight and you’re talking
to your neighbor in the driveway and you find out that his daughter is going to be home
for the summer and is going to be looking for an internship in Washington DC. What do you think you want to do, what are
we going to do with that information? Do you think there are opportunities where
you might need to ask for ethics advice? Do you think this is a potential issue? Does anyone think that might be a problem
that we help someone with the internship? Female Speaker: I just don’t see how internships
are a problem, I don’t get it. Patrick Shephard: You think this is outrageous. Female Speaker: Yes, I do. Patrick Shephard: It’s outrageous that it
would be a violation of any ethics rules to help our person with an internship. Female Speaker: Absolutely. Patrick Shepard: Yeah, what kind of help world
you like to provide? Female Speaker: Well, I’d like to let them
know kind of generally you know, what is he going to get. Like if there’s anything that’s available
with my agency first of all. Like if there are things available in my agency
then I don’t want to just say you know here’s a phone number and call because what’s the
point of my helping if my neighbor’s daughter could do that on her own. So you want to do something more than just
like here is our website, go take a look. Patrick Shepard: Well who thinks it would
be a problem if we asked, if we share the website with the neighbor’s daughter? Does anyone think that’s a problem? Yeah seems fine to me too. So yeah you’re exactly right. There ways that we can help our neighbor’s
daughter that will not be problems under the ethics rules. Can you think of a circumstance that would
be a problem for us, that would violate the ethics principles or could cause someone to
think we’re using our public office for private gain? Female Speaker: I mean, I guess like Bernadette
you said you had internships right? So if I like walked in, I guess if I like
walked into her office and sort of like said you know here’s my neighbor’s daughter’s
number, please call her and you know give her you know Patrick Shephard: Right. If we were providing sort of privileged access,
you know access people might not have, that could be a problem. Right, we want to mindful of situations like
someone who doesn’t live in Washington DC. Whose neighbor is attending our agency? We want to make sure that the process is fair
to them while also providing information to the government who needs to make hiring decisions. So I think you’re exactly right be outraged
that its impossible help someone. There are definitely ways we can help, but
we want to be mindful about which ways are appropriate. So in this circumstance, again we’ve presented
a certain scenario to folks and maybe they’re a little bit put out and they think the thing
that we’re suggesting might pose an ethics concern, shouldn’t or that they can’t see
a way that it might. And we can use that are kind of engagement
and energy in the classroom productively by digging a little deeper and again putting
people on that spectrum. What kind of activity is a okay, no problem,
definitely can do it? What kind of activity would be definitely
prohibited, things we certainly don’t want to do, and what’s the middle where we need
a little in ethics advice and guidance? On this next instance we’re going to show
you how if you have a member of your class, or a participant in your class who’s maybe
not engaged in the current discussion. How you can kinda deal with that situation
and make sure that that employee take something productive away from ethics training. The goal here always is to always to meet
employees where they are and make sure that we’re addressing the ethics issues actually
face in their day-to-day life, and again working use the same scenario here again and let’s
see what happens. So again, we arrived back home and we find
out that our neighbor’s daughter is seeking an internship. So what do you think? Trey, Do you guys do a lot of internships
or is this an issue that doesn’t really come up for you often? Male Speaker: The issues that come up is during
the holidays. Patrick Shephard: So your office isn’t,
you don’ have an internship program in the summer, so this is sort of not your thing. No. Male Speaker: We just don’t know what to
do with party invitations. Patrick Shephard: So your issues happen around
the holiday time when you get invitations to parties or you’re having parties in the
office. Well I think you’ll be happy because we’re
going to do a scenario in a minute where we discuss and look at some situations that come
up around the holidays. So make sure when we get there, that you ask
it and make sure that we discuss the questions that face the folks in your office. Thanks. So in this case we had a participant who was
not engaged and you’ll find this for all sorts of reasons and it can be a little bit
difficult as an instructor when you find your audience member is not following the discussion,
is not interested in discussion. And it very well may be that the tope of discussion
isn’t relevant to that employee at this time, and that’s fine, and a good thing to
do is to find out if that’s the case, to acknowledge the possibility, and to ask the participant
you know, what kind of issues do they face so you can make sure during the course of
the presentation touch on. A good follow on here would be when we get
to a discussion about gifts or invitations to remember that tree suggested that we address
that topic, to acknowledge his suggestion and then to acknowledge that we are indeed
addressing the topic. So these past scenarios have been focused
primarily on audience engagement at the very beginning of the class or where engagement
tends to wane. So these aren’t really questions so much
as they are challenges to getting discussion started. The next scenario that we’re going to use
we’re going to set up a dynamic of question and answers. So this is really what do we do with complex
ethics questions that arise during ethics training. The thing that we really want to remember
is a learning objective here, and objective is fairly simple. What we want to do is make sure employees
know when to seek advice and if we remember that that’s our goal these questions become
much easier to manage. As ethics officials the big work product that
we produce, we produce a lot of advice and counsel, and there’s a temptation to walk
into the classroom prepared to deliver a lot of advice and counsel, but our objective really
is to make sure employees understand when to seek it, not how we would provide it. So in this case we’re to look at some ways
of dealing with substantive questions that can set up a dynamic of sort of an answer
man situation, and never to see a strategy for managing the same question in a way that
is for the functional and procedural that helps our employees know how and when to come
for advice. Let’s see how that going to work. To use this in this scenario, we’re going
to use a slightly different scenario. We’re going to use the scenario about our
employees getting married that we used, that we introduced last month. So let’s see how that’s going to work. Alright. So we’ve moved on to our next scenario,
and this scenario is a fairly straightforward one than any of us could find ourselves in
or may find yourself in the future. And that’s this simple. So imagine that you and and your significant
other of many years decide finally to get married. A wedding might not strike you immediately
as an ethics situation, but what I would like you to do is think for a minute, and see if
you can imagine the need to ask for ethics advice as a result of your decision to get
married. Male Speaker: What if my new spouse’s uncle
works for an agency contractor and gives me a wedding gift? Can I get in trouble? What if I work on the contract? Patrick Shephard: Okay. So it looks like you have a question. That’s a good question Steve. So weddings lead to gifts, and gifts are an
area where we know we might have an ethics concern. So your question is, what if you get a gift
from a new family member who turns out to be a contractor for an agency, is that right? And the question is, does that pose a problem
for your work, do we need to work on that? Well the gifts rules generally prohibit federal
employees from accepting gifts from contractors. So under the general prohibition we might
have a problem, but the good news is there’s an exception, and the exception is for gifts
based on a personal relationship. So because your spouse is related to your
uncle, there is probably a sufficient personal relationship there to allow you to accept
the gift. Whether we need to think any more about your
work, you may have what we call a covered relationship with your new family member,
and if he is a close family member we may have some appearance concerns if you working
on matters affecting his employer. So that’s a great question and I hope that
answers good, and that’s the sort of question we’d want you bring to us. Female Speaker: Can you repeat that slowly,
because I’m lost? You can or you can’t, because I’m lost. Patrick Shephard: Yeah. No so that’s exactly right. So let’s take a look. So that might be a way that we were tempted
to address this question, is to give the legal answer, to go through the analysis under subpart
D and some party of the stanza conduct in the classroom, and we could probably spend
the rest of the hour discussing this very question, working through it, and making sure
Steve is appropriately advised, and we do two things one we prevent ourselves from getting
to the other topics that are really important, we have taught beyond our objective which
is teaching employees how to ask questions and when to bring those questions to the attention
of an ethics official, and we set ourselves up for a dynamic that I think of is the answer
man dynamic. So let’s see what happens next after we have
shared share this answer with our employee. So you decide to get married, what questions
might you have? Male Speaker: What if I didn’t know he was
my uncle? What if his employer paid for the gift? What if I’m the CO on the contract? What if I’m not the CO on the contract,
but want to be? Patrick Shephard: Alright. As you can see here by setting up the answer
man dynamic, we have invited our participant to ask increasingly complex iterations on
the same question, and we could be here for the rest of eternity producing ethics advice
to these various iterations on the scenario. This is a line of engagement that any four
-year-old is very off familiar with. If you deal with small children you might
be familiar with the why why why why why line of questioning. You’ll also be familiar that doesn’t really
lead to a productive learning environment. So what we want to do is rather than firing
off an answer in response to a substantive question, we want to help our employees imagine
themselves in a situation that would give rise to the question, and then give them strategies
for moving forward and said of settling the question. So let’s take that scenario again and see
what that looks like. Alright so our next scenario is that you decide
to get married. Can you guys think of any ethics questions
that might arise? Male Speaker: What if my new spouse’s uncle
works for an agency contractor and gives me a wedding gift? Can I get in trouble? What if I work on the contract? Patrick Shephard: That’s a great question
Steve. That’s a fantastic question. That’s something that you’d want to bring
to the attention of the ethics office, but let’s do this. Could you imagine what kind of circumstance
would give rise to you getting this information, sort of walk me through your wedding day,
or your wedding weekend where this sort of comes to light. Male Speaker: Well, it was a beautiful weekend. The sun was shining. No but we were at the reception and I met
the uncle, and in the conversation I learned that he’s a contractor at my agency. Patrick Shephard: Excellent. So that’s something that happens all the
time. Yeah we talk to new people, we find out the
professional relationship because we live and work in Washington DC, and all we ever
talk about his work. So yeah that’s something that comes up all
the time. So what do you do with that situation? Are you going to go to knock the DJ over send
everyone home because you have an ethics question? Male Speaker: Besides buying a drink, I would
go to my ethics official. Patrick Shephard: Yeah, So there’s no need
to stop the presses, but it’s good to acknowledge the pay of this new piece of information gives
rise to ethics question that I might have, and when would you come talk to us? Are you going to stop, you know leave your
wedding, and you know you got the ethics official on speed dial, or maybe when you get back
to work we can talk back to work we could talk about it? Male Speaker: The first opportunity that I
have. Patrick Shephard: Yeah exactly, so when you
get back to work we can talk about it. I think that’s a good place to jump off. So you know the circumstances that you described
are very normal, they come up all the time and you correctly realized that hey you know
maybe down the line this can be an ethics issue so you want to raise that to the attention
of an ethics officials. What about the gift, maybe not this gift specifically,
but what happens if someone gives you something and you’re not sure if you should’ve taken? What kind of strategies might you use there? Female Speaker: I think it depends on how
much you like the gift. Male Speaker: That fruitcake goes a long way. Patrick Shephard: Well that’s something
to remember, the ethics office can often find the reason have to give back the gift. But if you do receive a gift and you’re
not sure if you should’ve accepted it or if the rules allow for it, come talk to us. We’re happy to talk you through it. Usually there’s an exception applies. If there’s a problem we can help you work
to the process of returning it if necessary. Female Speaker: A couple of things here. So the takeaway is kind of like one of the
triggering events than really anytime you get a gift is like if they work for the agency
or something. Like in respect, I mean like this is Uncle
Bob. I mean I would immediately think oh Uncle
Bob is a problem. The triggering thing for me is, it doesn’t
matter its Uncle Bob, and he works with us. Patrick Shephard: That’s exactly right. So if you’re receiving a gift because of
your job, or from someone who does business with us, or we regulate, then you want to
be concerned. From a family member who also happens to do
business with us, it’s usually going to be fine. Unless there’s some special circumstances
like the company paid for it, he brought it to you, the exceptions can apply, but it’s
something to keep in mind. We’ll be happy to walk you through that
as it occurs, but I think in Steve’s case the bigger issue is that Steve is now in the
workplace with a family member, who’s on the other side of contract. So that’s something you know, what kind
of information we want to have about Steve and his position at the agency. Female Speaker: Whether you work with him,
I mean if you never saw him before. Patrick Shephard: We might not have an issue
if you’ve never met before. But if you were say, reassigned to the contract,
we’d want to talk about that. But again you’re exactly right to recognize
that you have a family member who works in the federal workplace, but does his contractor
and those are some issues we’d want to think about. So thanks, that’s a great question. So in this case we had the same question but
rather than firing off the answer the question we asked the employees to collaborate and
walk us through the process that they would actually engage in, in order to manage that
scenario. So rather than simply firing off the answer
which is helpful once they get to the ethics office, we asked them to think about how they
might bring this to the attention of appropriate official. By focusing on the process the employee should
go through and our objective of getting employees accustomed to and able to identify situations
where they need ethics advice. We avoid that answer man scenario where we’re
firing off answers about the rules to increasingly complex legal fact patterns. And this is consistent with the way we provide
advice all the time. As you all know as ethics officials, when
we have an employee who comes to our office for advice, there is often a lengthy back-and-forth
to gather all the necessary information, a period in which we go into legal research,
we look at precedents and OG opinions, and then finally we provide a response and sometimes
there’s more back and forth. So expecting to provide thorough ethics advice
in a training environment is a little bit unrealistic, but if we focus on the procedural
objective of having folks recognize when to ask for advice, we do ourselves a lot of favors. So if you think this presentation has been
helpful and you’d like to sort of see more tips and tricks for training, please let us
know in your course announcement. Again we do want to partner with agencies
to pilot some of these presentations, so if you’re interested in using these in your
agency and wouldn’t mind allowing us to come visit you, please also let us know by
sending me an email or Kenisha Cunningham an e-mail and we’ll get you on the list. Thank you for joining us for the advanced
practitioner series. We hope you’ll join us for the virtual summit
next month and we will be returning in April with our regularly scheduled program. So thanks very much for joining us.
interest laws that are found in 18 U.S. Code. Um, and we also, uh, the Standards of Conduct
that are found at 2635. However, you know, encompassed in that are
lots of different activities besides just the disciplinary actions that we’re going
to be talking about later on today in our presentation. And so I want to go over just a few of those
things that, that our ethics officials do.

Stephen Childs

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