Do you understand what behaving ethically entails? According to Michael Josephson, there are four principles of ethical behavior: honesty, integrity, fairness, and concern for others. You can think of these four basic principles as the legs of an imaginary stool. One missing leg will create a wobbly stool, but two missing legs makes the stool collapse. If you aren’t fair or caring, your pride in being honest and having integrity means nothing.
Ethical Behavior in Business
As of late, ethical business behavior has been a number one topic of concern. Reviewing the events of the last year, it would appear that the words “business” and “ethics” are conflicting terms. Whether you look to Wall Street, mortgage companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or private companies like AIG, never mind all of the mortgage companies being investigated for questionable business practices, the news is depressing. It appears that the 1980’s mantra “greed is good” never truly went away.
The criminal dealings of top entrepreneurs have been uncovered, which should motivate other individuals to behave more ethically. In truth, however, it commonly acts as an excuse for not changing poor behavior. What harm can there be in using your company’s PC computer for personal business when your manager uses the company’s telephone for personal long distance calls? When employees see how company management conducts itself, they begin to feel no shame for whatever little indiscretions they may have committed themselves.
Managers can unintentionally be signaling that unethical behavior will be tolerated when they put pressure on a smaller, downsized staff to produce more. When employees feel forced to meet company goals by whatever means possible, ethical behavior may go by the wayside.
They get the message, “It’s OK to be dishonest, as long as you meet your objectives.” As the economy takes us on a roller coaster ride, we need to evaluate our own thought patterns to ensure that we don’t allow ourselves to fall into unethical behavior just because it looks like we can easily get away with it. There is always room for improvement in your business communications.
These are five guidelines to assist you in communicating ethically (source: “Business Communication, Process & Product,” Mary Ellen Guffy, 2000):
(1) Be truthful. Statements that are misleading or untrue should never be made. It is also not ethical to tell partial truths or to exaggerate.
(2) Be sure to label opinions as opinions. Do not attempt to convince anyone that something you merely believe to be true is already a proven fact. Do the work; research thoroughly and assure yourself that you aren’t just representing another person’s opinion as your own.
(3) Do not show bias. Understand that your own subjective beliefs may come through in your writing. Even if you are passionate in your opinions, ethics call for you to be dispassionate in your presentation.
(4) Your communications should be easy to understand. You should put down your thoughts clearly, so they are simple to comprehend. Make sure that what you write can be easily understood by the reader. Don’t muddy the waters by using convoluted sentences and all sorts of hard-to-comprehend industry jargon.
(5) Credit your sources. Do not copy anyone’s work. Most people have the basic knowledge that they must use quotation marks if they are using a direct quote from another writer. Yet there are a number of people who do not understand that they need to properly credit other people’s ideas as well. You are still cheating if you paraphrase sentences and throw in a handful of new words without crediting the author.
Not only must you communicate ethically to be successful in the long run, but it is also morally correct. Be sure you conduct yourself in the way that you would want others to emulate. If you conduct your affairs ethically and are successful, other individuals will follow your lead.