Episode 2 | The Etiquette and Ethics of Skepticism

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Asking “skeptical” questions can help directors and others get to the bottom of things. But this can involve asking tough questions on sensitive topics, notes moderator Michele Hooper. How can an individual exercise skepticism without causing offense or weakening trust? The answer lies in proper etiquette and ethics—as our two panelists explain, using examples from real life experience.

According to Mary M. Mitchell of The Mitchell Organization, a widely published author on the topic, etiquette is a customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group--a set of rules one can learn. They accord with good manners, an internal attitude based on respect and integrity. Etiquette and manners create good relationships, which create good business. Key elements include a sense of setting, careful word choice, listening skills, appropriate facial expression and body language, and of course, please, thank you, and apologies when appropriate.

Veteran director Bill White of Northwestern University helps directors and others use the tool of skepticism to build ethical organizations. Ethics are how the organization deals with people: employees, suppliers, customers, and host communities. Ethics and skepticism go hand in hand; both involve a search for the truth. The effective skeptic respects others—believing them to be ethical until proven otherwise. Also, it is important to distinguish between facts versus opinion, versus values: Facts are easy to ascertain, and one can agree to disagree when it comes to opinions. The crux of the matter comes with values. They rise above situational ethics. White advises directors and others to make their own judgments, and to pay attention not just to words, but also to behavior.

Speaker Spotlight

Michele J. Hooper serves on the NACD board of directors and on the boards of PPG Industries, Inc. and UnitedHealth Group. She chairs the audit committee for PPG, and the Nominating and Governance committee for UnitedHealth Group. She is also co-chair of the CAQ Working Group focused for the Deterrence and Detection of Financial Reporting Fraud. Ms. Hooper previously was a board member of Target Corporation, AstraZeneca PLC, DaVita Corporation, and Seagram Company Ltd. She is President and CEO of The Directors’ Council, which specializes in corporate board of director recruitment.

The Mitchell Organization President Mary M. Mitchell delivers one consistent message: social, presentation and communications skills are the keys to personal and professional success. Mitchell spreads this message through seven acclaimed books, published in seven languages; newspaper columns, such as her nationally syndicated newspaper column, “Ms. Demeanor”, as well as her “Nice Matters” column for The Seattle Times; and online forums, through ivillage.com. Working with select professionals, and backed by vast international and multimedia experience, Mitchell has developed customized programs to improve the internal and external human relations of many organizations.

William J. White is a member of the boards of NACD, ContextMedia, Inc., NorthShore University HealthSystem, and The Field Museum. He has served as chairman of Bell & Howell Company as both chief executive officer and president, and has also served as chairman of Whitestar Graphics, Inc. Currently, Professor White is a faculty member of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Kellogg School of Management.

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