Hopefully, the majority of us will not ever be put in a situation where we are blackmailed or extorted. But we may be in the position to hire people or have social relationships with others who may be susceptible to bribes or have things in their past that can cause trouble in the future.
Who is most at risk?
You would like to think that only people who have shady or illicit pasts and who are running for political office would be subject to an extortion attempt, but in this age of social media, it is far more complicated. That picture your friend posted of you drunk when you were underage could come back to haunt you at college admissions time or when you’re about to get your first teaching job. With cell phone cameras being so accessible, just about anyone could be at risk for a blackmail attempt. Most people have something they would rather keep from family or from work.
People who are more likely to be bribed, on the other hand, tend to be people of influence. If you are in a position that could possibly be bribed—in fields like an inspector, a police officer or judge, an official, or in administration, be aware.
What if I’ve done something I’m not proud of? Will it come back to bite me?
Chances are, no it won’t. It depends on what you did, how many people know about it, and your field of business. If you are in the public eye, you’ll be under more scrutiny—which may make it easier or more valuable if something is ‘discovered’ about you. On the whole, most people don’t care about drunken college parties or other nonsense. However, if you work with young kids and somebody films you screaming at your toddler in a shopping mall, that might have an impact on your career.
What Can I Do?
If you act with integrity, you may be able to avoid these situations. Even if you made mistakes before, owning them and being up front about them takes the shame and guilt out of the situation. If you are honest with others, then there’s no power over you with secret information. If those who love and respect you are aware of your indiscretions because you’ve been honest with them, blackmail or extortion are a non-starter.
If you want to avoid the situation of being offered a bribe, you need to show your character full-force. People are going to target those that will lead to the most success, so if you are forthright and honest in your dealings with people, chances are it will never come up. But if people suspect that you have some moral flexibility or a reputation for not exactly following the rulebook, you may set yourself up for a huge temptation and a big problem.
What if someone does offer me a bribe?
The most honest answer I can give you is not to take it. It will lead you down a slippery path of lies and corruption that you probably do not want to be on. Sure it would be easy to take the bribe now but people don’t usually bribe you for no reason. Something will come up and you’ll be forced to get involved, doing something you probably know is wrong. It is easier to say no and move on.
However, there are situations where the bribe should be reported to an authority and have it be handled through official channels. You were likely already briefed about this through your job and should actually know what to do; if not, there is probably a mention of the proper procedure in your handbook, SOP, or manual. Talk to a supervisor you trust if you are unsure. Handle the situation with as much tact and grace as you can muster, and you should be fine.