Communication at all levels is critical to an organization's success. Whether you're talking to a teammate or you're crafting a marketing message, not only do you have to clearly get your message across, but the content of what you say matters, too. Whether executives should get a some leeway when it comes to communication ethics is debatable, but generally, honesty is the best policy, both for a clean conscience and good business.
In Public Relations
Some would argue that "spin" - the shaping of a phrase or event to meet your needs - is a necessity in the world of PR, especially if your company's a bit confused about a problem. As Steve Tobak says in an article on BNET, saying you're not sure of something can cause a full-blown brand management crisis in some cases. In his article, Tobak describes one scenario where he denied that his company's microprocessors had overheating issues, although testers at his organization couldn't confirm those statements with certainty. Tobak argues that his statements upheld share prices and maintained customer confidence during a time of crisis for the company.
In New Media
While the strategy worked for Tobak, because he turned out to be right, it's worth considering what could have happened if he had been wrong. Customers frown upon companies that lie and make promises that they can't keep. Making strong, yet dubious statements in the age of social media is even more risky. Fail or come across as untruthful, and everyone in the connected world knows about it instantly. It's better to be honest about who you are and what you can do now than risk brand damage later.
In Traditional Advertising
According to BNET writer Geoffrey James, being more ethical makes for better advertising results. Today's consumers are savvy and can often tell when marketers exaggerate the truth. For copy that resonates with customers on your website and in your product brochures, replace opinions with facts. You say your your software improves productivity, but do you know that for a fact? If you can cite a study showing that your software makes users 25 percent more productive, then you're getting somewhere.
On a Team
While being honest with people outside the company is important, being honest with coworkers is also crucial for fostering team spirit and a sense of trust. Before the start of a project, team members should gather to discuss goals and get to know each other. Teammates should also decide on a communication plan together and stick with it. While these steps are important for any team, BNET writer Wayne Turmel says they're particularly important in remote teams. Lack of planning can leave some team members feeling resentful when communication breaks down and encourage the perception that some people aren't pulling their weight, whether or not that's true. To promote positivity, meet frequently and encourage everyone to contribute. The Northern Virginia Ethical Society suggests additional tenants to make sure people communicate ethically. Try to understand others, speak from your own experience, let others speak their piece without interruption and don't assume that you understand someone without taking the time to listen first.
- BNET; In Defense of Corporate Spin Doctors; Steve Tobak; May 2010
- BNET; How to Control Your Brand in the Age of Social Media; Steve Tobak; May 2011
- BNET; How to Remove the BS from Your Sales Messages; Geoffrey James; May 2011
- BNET; How To Build Trust When Your Team Doesn’t Know Each Other; Wayne Turmel; May 2011
- BNET; Four Steps to a Team Communication Plan; Wayne Turmel; March 2010
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