Communication is ethical when it is upfront, honest and cooperative. Communication that is intended to conceal the truth or harm another person cannot be described as ethical. While ethics are not the same as morals, there is a strong relationship between the two: morals are ideas of what is right and wrong, while ethics are behavioral principles influenced by moral beliefs. The ethics of communication are therefore strongly influenced by moral principles.
In general, ethical communication is honest communication. While there are cases where it would be ethical to lie, such as to a prospective murderer about the whereabouts of a potential victim, these cases are the exception rather than the rule. Also, honesty is more than just not lying; it means being open, and volunteering whatever information you have, even if it puts your own short-term interests at risk. Trust in other people is closely related to their track record for honesty. Encouraging an environment of trust can go a long way in promoting ethical communication in a business or organizational setting.
Openness to Other Views
Openness is one of the key pillars of ethical communication. In communication, openness means being open to diverse ideas and opinions, as well as being ready to offer your own opinions even if you do not think they will be popular. A business environment where people are not free to play the devil's advocate and say unpopular opinions is not an ethical one, because intolerance of divergent opinions means intolerance of differences and free flow of information is essential to both the public's and the organization's long-term well-being.
In the context of business communications, commitment means allocating the necessary time and resources to discussing issues fully. Communication needs to be thorough, for only when time and resources, such as feedback forms, are dedicated to discussing issues is there a chance for everyone in the organization to have their voice heard.
Ethical communication is goal-oriented rather than status-oriented. The style of communication in which various groups in a business break off into opposing camps and align primarily on the basis of political, status-seeking interests, tends not to accomplish things for the organization as a whole. The style of communication where people seek to build a consensus and focus on doing what they can for the company rather than aiming for professional advancement to positions they are not suited to, tends to be good for the organization. Thus, insofar as helping the organization is a moral imperative, consensus building is the ethical style of communication.
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images