Facing moral or ethical dilemmas in the workplace

Written by Esther Denn, CCAM, ARM

What is Ethics?  Simply put, it is:   knowing the difference between right and wrong and choosing to do what is right. Our everyday business transactions with our peers, supervisors, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders present many opportunities to face moral or ethical dilemmas as well as our family and personal lives.  How do you equip yourself to do what is right?  Most people would say morals and ethics have to do with how a person is taught, i.e. their values.   If you grew up with the Golden Rule , Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” you may choose to do what is right.  But what about those who grew up with, what’s in it for me?” Do they choose “NO” unless it is in their best interest?    At the end of the day, why would a person want to choose to do what is right?

A reader of my blog recently shared the following with me:  “I recently encountered a moral dilemma in my own life.  A tall, dark and handsome business associate presented me with the potential of an affair of the heart.  Wow!  Who wouldn’t say “YES” to that?  I said “NO.”  Why?  Because I discovered that he is happily married.  Now for some people that may be okay.   To be frank, I felt flattered at first.  But for me, it is contrary to what I value and that is when you make a commitment to another person, you remain true.  If you are not happy, then leave the relationship.

I was flabbergasted to discover that my business associate thought it was okay to flirt with me, to tell me how beautiful I was, how much he adored me and if he had not married his wife and met me then surely he would be with me.  When I confronted him, he told that I was making more out of it than what it was and that he was just being open and honest.  I felt angry at not being heard or understood when I said that it was not okay for him to tell me those things.   I made the decision to remove myself from  interaction with the business associate because I felt that if I continued to be “friends” with him, the temptation to go down a slippery slope would be  there.  I felt guilty just knowing he had those feelings for me and not his wife.

I chose to do what was right for me in this situation because I know the pain first hand from discovering that a spouse was having an affair.  What may seem exciting and fun to one at the time can turn to bitter ashes in the end.   My former spouse struggled with guilt and then tried to relieve himself of it by sharing it with me.  That sharing destroyed trust as well as the relationship. ”   

The reader’s  story reminded me of the importance of examining your motives as illlustrated in the following:    “We were rigorously honest, except when to do so, would harm or injure others.  There are some things that you just have to live with if it would mean destroying someone or putting them in jeopardy.” (The Fourth Step of The Twelve Steps).”

The keyword here in our relationships with our coworkers, friends and family members is TRUST.  Without trust, there is no foundation for a relationship.  Our daily interactions with others depend greatly on our belief that we can trust them to do what they say they will do and follow through.  We also need to have a framework of values to guide us in our lives.  In the end, when facing a moral or ethical  dilemma, it is more about yourself and what rings true for growth and happiness in your own life.


April 27, 2011 at 6:27 pm 2 comments


The focus of my blog has primarily been on interpersonal awareness and growth for the individual property manager or person who works with the public on an ongoing basis.  Years of life experience have brought me to the conclusion that it is vital to have self awareness and communication skills in performing any job that involves human contact.  I was fortunate to have sought out counseling and personal growth early in my career years and it has paid off immeasurably in my communication skills with others.    That being said, the most difficult challenge we face are in our communication skills with others.  Questions such as:  Why doesn’t my boss like me?  Why is my coworker gossiping about me?  Why is that person making my life miserable?  Why don’t certain people like me?  Why can’t I get ahead?  Why can’t I find someone who will love and accept me?  Why am I angry, miserable, lonely or tired?

Learning and growing are life-long pursuits that do not end when the class is over, school ends or one “Ah ha” moment is reached.   I am still learning about myself and my communication skills.   Recently, I found myself becoming angry upon hearing about the shooting rampage in Arizona.  What prompted my anger was the courage of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik to speak up about what he felt was wrong with our communication.


What a painful tragedy for all Americans to have lost these bright stars in a blaze of bullets.  My prayers and healing thoughts are with them and their families.

So, I return to the wise philosopher, Socrates, who said “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  I asked myself “why am I angry.”  I discovered that I am angry because I have been silent, not expressing my opinion and listening to the angry, political rhetoric being bandied about as well as misinformation or twisting of the truth and facts by political groups, politicians and the media.   I have even received chain emails from clients and business colleagues with heated political rants about certain racial groups, legislation and political issues.  Business colleagues will approach me and think nothing of giving me their opinion on political subjects they got from a media personality and the internet.    I try to direct them to do their due diligence and research on the subject and not rely on a celebrity media person as the authority on the subject but to no avail.  We all know the experience of working with a person whose mind is closed and there is no way of changing it or bringing new information in.  I am angry because I know from personal  experience that strong rhetoric leads to violence.  I grew up in a dangerous and violent household with family members who were mentally unstable.   “There but for the Grace of God”,  I  was spared and am alive today to write this blog and share my life experience with others.

Because of my past painful life experience, my inherent nature is to be open minded, to weigh the issues, take what I like, what is good for me and useful and leave the rest.  Consequently, I am open to all philosophies, religions,  and people who are striving for peace and a better world.   I believe that it is important to see all sides of every issue, to become educated about the facts and to respect the other person’s opinion.  I may not like them or their opinion, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.  I have a few times changed my opinion on what I believed because someone was able to show me the way to a different way of thinking through intelligent, caring and thoughtful  communication.   What I don’t like is arguing, violence, angry rhetoric – it hits too close to past, painful memories and it shuts down any discourse or understanding.    I also believe that our words are powerful and that what we speak can often come into being in our lives and the lives of others.

What we say and how we express ourselves is monumental in our lives as well as the lives of those we touch.    I am encouraged as well as uplifted by everyone who strives for the best communication outcome with others.   Join me in good thoughts and  prayers for healing and compassion for our Nation and our discourse.

Esther Denn, CCAM® ARM®



January 11, 2011 at 1:20 am 3 comments

Make this year the best Christmas ever!

This economy has dealt a blow to many.  Unemployment is at an all time high.  People we know are struggling with foreclosures and worrying about where they will be living and what their economic future holds.  Government is a house divided.  Help for the less fortunate among us is not a priority.  Now is not the time to dwell on the glass half empty.  I want to challenge my friends, coworkers, business associates to help those less fortunate this holiday season.  Contribute to the food banks, Toys for Tots, Homeless Shelters, your less fortunate friends and acquaintances.  I just found out that my friend of 10 years, Annie Privette of Apartment Companies, temp agency, lost her home due to the economy.  She works on commission and could use a hand up.  Any of you who need temps, please call her at 949-307-1595.    Her email is annie@aptcompanies.com.  Annie  has been there for me for over 10 years and is well known in the industry.  Pay it forward!  Give thanks for what you have and if you can only give a kind word to all who cross your path, you will have made a difference.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!Christmasblessings

Esther Denn, CCAM

December 14, 2010 at 9:38 pm 2 comments

Have you ever asked yourself the question “What do people see when they see me?

Written by Esther Denn, CCAM® ARM®

One of my favorite songs is by Mary, Mary which asks this question http://youtu.be/DgtMHdir_7A.  Tavis Smiley, a favorite talk show host on PBS recently tweeted that we should make our work a calling and labor from the heart and spirit to make a difference in our lives as well as those we touch.  The poet Robert Frost provided a brilliant illustration about choosing the better path in life when he wrote in “The Road Not Taken,”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5 Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, 10 And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. 15 I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Life can be an adventure if we let it in both our work and personal lives when we choose to live fully in the moment and share our experience, strength and hope for the greater good with others we meet along life’s pathways.  I would like to encourage all of my readers to find meaning in your work and work with meaning.  Even in times such as these, there are great rewards in front of us when we look for them.

September 8, 2010 at 8:46 pm Leave a comment

Character counts in business and in life!

Written by Esther Denn, CCAM, ARM

There are seven things that will destroy us:  Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; religion without sacrifice; politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics.

–          Mahatma Gandhi

I have been asked by several people who work in property management to write about the effect that lying has on people and in business.   Many property managers, leasing consultants, commercial brokers, realtors are dealing with less than honest clients who leave them feeling cynical about people in general.  Lying consists of false assurances and compliments, giving others false impressions, omission of key or pertinent information, exaggeration of facts, misleading by bringing up other information and telling “white” lies to avoid offending others.  Our economy and the near collapse of the financial system in our United States are testament to the decline of values and character traits in business and in life.

I was listening to a political commentator recently on television who said that the economic crisis was caused by a spiritual bankruptcy that exists in people who try to fill the emptiness in their lives through greed and lust for money and things.   When values are sacrificed for an easier, softer way, we all suffer as human beings.    No one benefits.  At the end of the day, money and things are never enough to fill an empty void.

So how do you become honest?  The 4th Step of the 12 Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous encourages people to be rigorously honestexcept when to do so would harm or injure others.”  What does that mean?  It does not mean that we have the opportunity to be honest in a mean spirited way with others or that we relieve our guilty conscience at the expense of others.    And, we do not come up with a myriad of excuses as to why we behaved the way we did.  A simple, heartfelt  “sorry” will do along with a change in the behavior that caused the problem.   If you find yourself continually saying you are “sorry”, there is a problem you haven’t addressed.

A personal story

I have been married twice.  My first husband cheated in the marriage.  I knew deep down in my heart that something was going on but I was too young and naïve at the time to confront the issue.  I left my husband for other reasons.  He told me when I left him that he had betrayed me and felt that he had to tell me because he felt guilty.  I was crushed by his revelation.   I felt that the truth was used as a weapon to hurt me.

I recently was invited to attend a workshop led by a celebrity who was trying to convince the audience that clients are treated like family.  My guest and I were chastised by the celebrity at the event and consequently felt unwelcome.  Later, when I sent my comments about how we felt, I received a “backhanded” apology from the celebrity.  A “backhanded apology” is like a slap in the face to the receiver.    It goes along like this…”I am sorry that I acted that way but…excuse…” What I noted about the celebrity is that there was a disconnect between what they thought about themselves and how others actually perceived them.  In other words, there was no self awareness on their part about their behavior and how it could have been perceived by others.

How can a disconnect or lack of self awareness affect you in business and life?  The celebrity was trying to drum up new business.  My guest works in Los Angeles, Orange County and Ventura County.  How do you think that snub and poor behavior on the celebrity’s part will affect their future potential business from someone who has access to potential business in three counties?

Our behavior can have a far reaching affect and impact us in either a positive or negative way for years to come.

Food for thought

Dare to be true:  nothing can need a lie:  A fault, which needs it most, grows two thereby.  ~George Herbert

July 24, 2010 at 1:39 am Leave a comment

First impressions are often lasting ones

I have realized that it is easy to become complacent about property maintenance and appearance when money is tight, there is not enough help and the amount of work seems never ending.   Many of us get used to walking by cracks in the sidewalk, dirty, grimy stairwells, broken building components and not see them.  A manager once told me that she ignored maintenance issues unless they were pointed out because it meant adding extra work to her already over burdened “to do” list.  I recently delivered letters to a community that brought this issue to the forefront.  At first sight, this community spells luxury living at its finest.  But upon closer examination,  the stairwells were dirty and when my hand grabbed the stair railings I could feel  the ickyness of years of grime on my hands.    Upon reflection, I couldn’t help thinking “what else is a mess?    Worse, what kind of message does this send to the residents and guests about management and/ or the owners of the community?  And the sad thing is that an initial negative impression is hard to change.  So the question we should ask ourselves is “what is your community’s  first impression saying to others about you?”

Simply taking care of the little things goes a long way in increasing the property appearance and value.   Brainstorming with other managers about how they took care of similar issues can be very helpful.  Expand your list of contacts so that you can call on others for help.  Join the OC Property Management Network on Linked In and share your questions or ideas with other managers.

I spoke to a manager who expressed concerns with water restrictions and personnel shortage about considering the possibility of cleaning one building a week until all buildings are addressed.  I shared that my association where I live is addressing the cleaning of the common areas in a similar fashion.  She liked that idea.

The communities entrusted to us as property managers are valuable investments.  Part of the fiduciary responsibility we have is to assist in preserving, maintaining and even improving the property’s value.  First impressions are very important and they are a reflection of our management abilities.   It doesn’t always take enormous sums of money or time to pay attention to the details.  Exterior cleaning, common area repairs such as cracks in sidewalks, broken fire extinguisher glass, dings to exterior stucco, broken roof tiles can be addressed at a reasonable cost.  Fully utilizing the services of your landscaping professionals can go a long way in maintaining the property’s curb appeal by seeding bare spots in the landscape, mulching and trimming back shrubs and overhanging tree limbs.

Outward appearances can be deceiving if the interior is flawed.  First impressions can quickly go downhill because of lack of focus on the little things.  As people we strive for progress in our work and lives not perfection.   Look for ways to improve upon the inside of the community by utilizing your community experts whether they are your vendors, onsite personnel or office personnel.  Often times we can become overburdened in our responsibilities and we forget that we are part of a team and that we are empowered to delegate or ask for help from others.  Realize that your first impression is a lasting one.

June 25, 2010 at 6:57 pm 1 comment

Unemployment impacts everyone!

Written by Esther Denn, CCAM, ARM

Since the economy tanked last year, unemployment has impacted the property management industry.  Foreclosures have reduced operating income for homeowner associations, commercial income declined due to business closures, and the apartment industry reduced rents and occupancy from prior years.  Companies are cutting back and reluctant to fill job vacancies.

I asked a friend and colleague with commercial property management experience in Orange County, California, what her job search experience has been since being laid off several months ago.  Here is what she had to say.

Gosh, that is a hard one! I am probably registered with at least three temp agencies and I have only had two assignments in six months.  Of the few interviews I have been lucky to have, they all said they had received 200 applicants!  The ads I respond to, which I feel I am perfect for, I am not getting calls.”

“My advice is to not apply for jobs that don’t fit your resume or experience. I would say just to be prepared to answer questions like “what are your strengths, weaknesses, and what you hated about your last job.”  They are giving tests such as words to describe yourself, rate 1-4 (such as 1= not likely me, 2=somewhat me, etc…)  Not sure what that was for, nor did they say how we did.”

“Research the company’s website and be up on it! (At a company I had two interviews with, I looked for their website but it was under construction.  Another interview I had, the company website was not memorable – I first looked at it before I applied for the job.  I should have reviewed it again before the interview because they asked me questions about their website and I felt pretty dumb!  They asked me who their clients were and what I thought of their site!”

To gain perspective, the unemployment figures for California during the month of March 2010 were at 13%.  California ranks third in the nation on unemployment.  In Orange County, California, where my business is based, the unemployment rate was at 10.1% as of March 2010.  As of April 2010, the United States unemployment rate is at 9.5%.

However, this story is not new.  When I lived in Houston, Texas during the 80’s, unemployment was a huge challenge.  I was a single parent out of work and competing for jobs during a time when all seemed hopeless.  Experience, painful as it is, teaches us we can overcome life’s challenges.  Following are some suggestions to try when the going gets tough.

  • Think outside the box.  Look for ways to distinguish you from the pack.  When I was unemployed in the 80’s, I contacted the ABC affiliate in Houston and asked them to do an interview on unemployment.  They asked me to round up other unemployed people at my home so they could interview us together.  As a result of the story airing on the 6:00 pm news, I got a job.
  • Temporary Solutions. Sign up for temp work.  Use your hobbies to make and sell goods.  Make room for new opportunities by clearing the clutter in your home and donating it or selling it on Ebay or Craigs List.
  • Volunteer.  Look for opportunities to help others.  It is in giving that we receive.  You never know where your next lead is coming from so be ready.
  • Network.  Attend industry events and join networking groups that hold a particular interest.  Use networking as an opportunity to get out, ward off depression, and meet others in your similar shoes.  View your contacts as an opportunity to help others.
  • Attitude of gratitude.  Focus on what you have to be grateful for.  Start with the basics – life, health, food, family, friends, Country.  Know that others are counting on you.
  • Keep the faith. You have innate talents and abilities to succeed and overcome life’s challenges. Remember, when one door closes, another door opens.  Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
  • Take time to reflect. Did you like your job?  What do you really want to do?  Write about it and set goals for yourself.  Bobbe Somer wrote, “We move towards the things we think about whether we mean to or not.  If you are thinking negativity, that is where you are headed.  Before your ship can come in, you have to send the ship out.”
  • Invite positivity. Hang around positive people who uplift you and encourage you. Attend a place of worship, find a mentor, or start your own group.
  • Quiet time. Enjoy the beauty of nature, meditate, pray and set aside a quiet time to clear your mind.  When was the last time you went to the beach or sat at the park?  You will recharge your mind and allow new ideas to enter.
  • Listen to uplifting music.  Music reaches the heart of the wounded soul.  Check out http://www.youtube.com for your favorite songs and look for videos by Mary Mary entitled “Get Up” and “The God in Me.”  You will be motivated to keep on keeping on.
  • Reach out to others for help. Humility is the great leveler and a teaching tool. If you are used to being in control and in charge, allow yourself to accept help from others.

Off and on over the years, I have personally experienced periods of unemployment in my own life.  The tips listed above have helped me during my job search as well as all areas of my life.  Currently, I am underemployed as I build up my business and take on temp assignments to fill the financial gaps.  I remember that I am a survivor and that gives me courage to press on.  My good thoughts and prayers are with everyone to be successful, particularly when life throws us a curve.

June 3, 2010 at 10:00 pm 7 comments

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