Q What do you do when a higher-up asks you to do something that effectively circumvents a written policy, while she is also providing you with a rationale (rationalization?) for why it doesn't do just that?

A Is it a choice between keeping your job or living with your conscience, or is there something in between?

The inner game

This may be an emotional issue for you, tapping into your sense of right and wrong. Acknowledge your feelings in the situation so that you can give them their proper place in planning your reaction, rather than acting impetuously on them.

Now take a dispassionate look at what you're being asked to do. Apart from being out of alignment with policy, what do you think about the action? Is it illegal, unethical, or immoral? Would you think it was a good idea if the policy were different? Draw your own conclusions about the act, apart from policy.

Consider the policy itself, particularly determining if the "higher-up" in question has the authority to change the policy. If so, this may ease your dilemma.

Finally, go inward. People generally have a good gut feel for what they should do. What messages are you getting from inside? What would you advise someone else in this situation?

The outer game

You can agree, you can resist, or you can ignore the situation and hope it goes away. All options have risks, and only you can select which path to take.

If you've decided to go along with the request, do so recognizing the risk this places you in. Definitely document the background on your actions, perhaps as far as asking for her request in an e-mail as documentation. It would be unfair -- but not surprising -- for you to take the rap for a policy violation.

In many cases, especially with financial or personnel rules, the issue you're raising has legal implications. Pushing back in cases like this will not be comfortable, but may be a requirement of your job. Get your boss to help, because you're in an unfair position. Prepare a clear assessment of the situation, along with reasons you disagree with the rationale.

If you continue to receive pressure to violate policy, take it higher in the organization, or report the situation to the ethics committee (if your company has one). In this situation, too, you're in the risky position faced by whistleblowers -- possible retaliation. To protect yourself, keep your documentation in order, including copies at home, so if you lose your job, you still have your case.

You may be tempted to ignore the situation. Do so at your own risk. While doing nothing may feel more comfortable, it may open you to accusations of insubordination or just not doing your job.

This is a tough situation, and you'll need support. Get reinforcement from trusted colleagues or friends, and detach from it when not at work rather than dwelling on it. Carrying it into other aspects of your life won't help you get a better outcome.

The last word

Follow your conscience, being clear and respectful about your limits, to deal with this awkward situation.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com or 651-398-4765. Questions also can be submitted at www.deliverchange.com/coachscorner.