Ethical communication 101: All about ethics in business communication
Last updated on: February 1, 2023
You might remember ethics from your high school philosophy classes. I sure do.
The paper “Communication Ethics: Principle and Practice” by Robert Beckett talks about the importance of ethical communication in the information age.
It states that communication in our day and age is becoming more and more devoid of morality, and we need to learn how to communicate better — or, more ethically, which is what this article is about.
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about ethical communication in the workplace.
So, let’s start with the basics — the principle of ethics.
The principle of ethics
Ethics is a philosophical discipline that, simply put, differentiates between right and wrong. More often than not, ethics go hand in hand with the term “morals”. Although they are different terms, they are usually used interchangeably.
Let’s paint a picture.
Ethics is essentially that little voice in our minds that’s whispering to us “Is this the right thing to do?” or “Are we sure we want to go down this road?”
Ethics is much more than just listening to your instinct, it is honoring the truth — both the general truth and your own personal one.
This philosophical discipline, with its principles, is a tool, a means to help you make a decision and lead an honest and better life.
The Pallipedia Dictionary defines the principles of ethics in a few points:
- Duty to respect your own choices when making decisions that you believe are in your best interest,
- Duty to act in the best interest of your patient, client, or subordinate,
- Duty to not do any harm, and
- Duty to treat yourself and others fairly in society.
Now that we have a better grasp of what ethics are, let’s talk about ethical communication.
What is ethical communication?
In a world where we have information under our fingertips, sometimes it’s easy to confuse what’s the truth and what’s misinformation. But even in a world filled with misinformation, there is a tool that can help us distinguish the truth, and that tool is ethics. So, the basic principle of ethics and ethical communication is truth and transparency.
We have defined ethics, so let’s define communication before we go any further: communication is the process of exchanging information through verbal and nonverbal cues.
So, if ethics is the philosophical discipline that deals with right and wrong, and communication is a process of exchanging information, then ethical communication is:
- Transparent, and
- Morally correct communication between parties.
We should use ethical communication in every aspect of our lives, and it is crucial to use it in the workplace too.
Now that we know what ethical communication is, let’s learn about ethical miscommunication in the next paragraph.
What is ethical miscommunication?
Ethical miscommunication is any form of communication that is misleading or not wholly truthful.
For instance, in today’s media and marketing campaigns, we can notice a lot of ethical miscommunication. If people or companies in any way over-exaggerate their product, device, or feature, then it’s safe to say that is ethical miscommunication. In other words, they are not truthful or transparent with their audience, and they are promising something that they know will not happen. Remember those commercials that would try and sell you diet supplements promising amazing weight loss results in under 10 days? Or the commercials selling anti-age skincare products with actors that have undergone botox treatments? Those are only some of the examples of unethical behavior.
You should avoid ethical miscommunication at all times because not being open with your consumers, clients, or even colleagues creates a gap in the trust that you are building. Once that trust is broken, it will take you a lot more work to fix it than it would have taken you to build that trust up from ground zero in the first place.
So, how do we avoid ethical miscommunication?
It’s simple. As long as we follow the basic rules of ethical communication, which we will discuss later in this article, you should be miscommunication-free.
The benefits of using ethical communication in the workplace
The workplace, as well as business relationships, have sets of rules that you must follow.
As much as there are rules for your behavior and code of conduct, there are rules for communication in the workplace. Communication is one of the things in the workplace that should be constantly upgraded since it is the oil that runs the machine. When communication is neglected, you risk a communication breakdown happening.
Rambling on and on to your coworkers, clients, or even friends will get you nowhere.
Ineffective and unethical communication won’t get you the results you want to achieve, which is why active communication is vital to all of us.
When you apply the basics and principles of ethical communication, you will be able to:
- Get your ideas across easier,
- Connect with colleagues and clients,
- Build stronger relationships with your business partners and your colleagues,
- Gain trust from your customers, clients or consumers.
Being transparent with your colleagues, clients, superiors, and subordinates leaves no room for misunderstanding. When you tell the truth and are honest about your decisions and feelings in the workplace, you become trustworthy and, eventually, an important part of your team.
For example, it’s easy to get the boundaries blurred if your coworker is also a personal friend.
How should you go about this situation? How should you communicate with your work friend?
Ethical communication can be of help here.
Most importantly, you should consider where you are. While you shouldn’t be discussing personal information in the office, you also shouldn’t be discussing sensitive work information over coffee with your work friend.
Ethical communication is here to help you to establish boundaries and make a difference between what’s right and what is wrong.
So, what are some of the benefits of ethical communication in the workplace?
Benefit #1: Your intentions are clear
In every type of communication, and especially in workplace communication, being clear, precise, and direct should be your holy grail.
When we speak in a precise manner, to our co-speaker, our intentions are clear. But, you must be wondering now, why should your intentions be clear to your co-speaker? Well, let’s consider this situation: you are a supervisor and you want to give a task to your employees. Since the task is a bit more complicated, you now have to explain what you want your employees to achieve. If you speak in a clear and direct manner, your employees will understand your vision and carry it out.
Set your intentions clearly so there is no room for confusion — and that leads us to our next point.
Benefit #2: There is no room for confusion
Ethical communication, as a branch of the philosophical discipline that is ethics, naturally, answers the question of what is right and wrong in the way that we communicate. If we take a closer look at ethical communication, we can see that it is a manner, a way of speaking that lets our co-speaker see and understand that we are honest.
An office, whether it is a remote one or an in-person one, relies on good and transparent communication.
When there is no confusion between two speakers, then there is no miscommunication that can lead to misunderstandings.
Benefit #3: When you are respectful, you are respected
Treating others with respect, talking to the with respect, and hearing out their ideas, thoughts, and opinions is a great part of ethical communication. Being rude to our co-workers and colleagues, or even clients, will never bring us the respect that we want.
We have to give respect to receive respect.
There is this huge misconception that fear equals respect. Respect follows respect — and when we implement ethical communication in our daily interactions, we achieve the goals we had of being liked and respected, because ethical communication reinforces our ethical code.
Benefit #4: Clear and established boundaries
When the lines of personal and work-appropriate topics get lost, it is easier to succumb to misunderstandings and disagreements. When we implement ethical communication in the workplace, we can clearly establish with our colleagues what we are comfortable and not comfortable discussing. You have friends outside of work, and maybe it’s better if Susan from Accounting doesn’t know the details of your dinner date last night.
5 rules to follow for correct ethical communication
Ethical communication is present in every aspect of our lives. Usually, we don’t even notice how pungent it is unless we stop and examine our own words.
For some, the principles of ethics are something of second nature to them, but for those who aren’t as familiar with it, here are the rules that should be followed for correct ethical communication.
Rule #1: Say the truth, truth, and nothing but the truth
Just as you would build your house from the ground up, the same metaphor can be implied to ethical communication.
Honesty is the foundation of good ethical communication.
Without honesty, the relationships you build won’t last.
Truth always comes out at some point, so instead of preparing for the inevitable consequences and doing damage control, start with honesty.
With that being said, being truthful doesn’t mean that you should spew words aimlessly and thoughtlessly. Being honest does not equal being cruel.
You should be truthful but still remain professional and polite.
Just because you can hide behind the phrase “I am just being honest” to convey your rude words, it doesn’t mean that is the best foundation for ethical communication.
Being honest means that you value your opinion, as well as other people’s, and you are bound by your ethics code to express yourself truthfully.
We are all responsible for our own words, opinions, and statements, but we are responsible of the effect that our honesty or dishonesty has on other people too. If you are direct, honest, and professional, then you have got the foundation of ethical communication down, and we can continue together to the next rule.
Rule #2: Be transparent
It is in human nature to conceal and hide away the things in our personality or work that we deem as faulty or not worthy enough.
In business ethical communication, this translates to the need for transparency.
We like to make everything perfect, shiny, and worthy, but sometimes we can get carried away. For example, we may exaggerate the features of our products or claim our product will change the world, to make an impact on our consumers.
This need is understandable, and it is hard to not embellish and polish our words to make them easier to ingest.
However, transparency in ethical communication is an important rule that goes hand in hand with the truth rule.
So, disclose any faults that may arise, and notify your clients of the issue.
Rule #3: Remember that understanding is everything
Language was invented to help us describe our reality.
Although, reality usually changes a lot faster than language. So while we wait for our language capacities to catch up to our realities, we should strive to understand and be understood.
That is easier said than done. But, what’s the issue?
Usually, our problem with understanding is the lack of clarity.
With direct communication, there is no room for misunderstanding.
But, to be clear and direct, we have to know and believe in what we are trying to explain and translate our ideas.
Rule #4: Be respectful
As we have mentioned in the first rule, which talks about honesty, being respectful matters.
To achieve respectful communication, you should keep in mind that it isn’t just what you say but how you phrase it and when you say it.
If you aren’t respectful towards your colleagues and tactful with your words, you might run into problems. Words are a great and beautiful tool, however, when we misuse them, we can create more problems than we can solve.
Rule #5: Accept responsibility
Accepting responsibility is a huge bite that we all have to learn to chew.
We all can indeed get carried away, especially in business communication.
Accepting responsibility, especially in workplace disagreements, for saying the wrong thing or embellishing more than you should have, shows more heart and courage than ignoring the problem you created.
Rule #6: Place confidentiality above everything else
When we talk about business ethical communication, there is a certain degree of privacy we have to adhere to.
From NDAs to respecting colleagues’ privacy, ethical communication covers it all.
It might be common sense, but not discussing the company’s sensitive information with an outsider or not gossiping about your coworkers’ private lives plays a great part in ethical communication.
How to be an ethical communicator
If you have asked yourself this question, then you are on the right path to becoming an ethical communicator.
Since communication is an essential part of our days, from start to finish, it’s great to know what will make us even better — in this case, ethical — communicators.
Keeping the rules we mentioned above in mind, an ethical communicator should be:
- Honest and respectful,
- Mindful, and
Tip #1: Be professional and effective
We should all be subjected to the rules of ethical communication, especially when we bring business into the equation.
The thing about business ethical communication is that being professional takes care of half of the work. The other half is effective communication. Or, in other words, be polite, respectful and precise whether you are speaking to the boss or the janitor. A good ethical communicator treats everyone with respect and honor.
Tip #2: Be honest and stand behind your words
Be honest with your clients about your products and what they can do for your consumers.
Don’t give in to the sensational factor.
If you are honest, direct, and believe in what you are saying, that will translate to your colleagues and clients.
Tip #3: Fact-check everything
Make it a habit to fact-check everything you read online, as well as to take everything with a grain of salt, unless you see concrete proof that the article or a statement you read is true. Especially if you want to use the information you read online in the workplace. If you don’t fact-check, still use the information you gathered, and it turns out it wasn’t true, your credibility will take a huge hit.
Conclusion: Everything in moderation — even ethics
Ethical communication is a philosophical discipline that will help you to better use your words, in the workplace or at home.
Being clear, direct, and honest in any aspect of your life is a great way to make sure that misunderstandings are minimal.
However, be careful not to accidentally lose compassion when you start implementing ethical communication in your life. Life is much more than just white or black.
Ethical communication is a tool that is here to help us communicate better — to know what is right and wrong to say.
However, remember that feelings are not your enemy.
So, if you are implementing ethical communication more in your day-to-day life — be mindful of your co-communicators.
✉️ Ethical communication can be tricky. Have you tried to implement it in your business communication? Are you happy with the way you communicate with your colleagues now?
Share your experience and tips at email@example.com and we may include your answers in this or future posts. If you liked this blog post and found it useful, share it with someone you think would also benefit from it.