The Basic Principles Of Ethical Communication
While project workflows, strategic planning, advanced technology, and business analyses are often topics associated with critical corporate discussions, an enterprise’s code of ethics - and its key ethical communication principles - is not often discussed. Businesses of all sizes rely on optimal person-to-person communication so that projects can be effectively completed, management and employees can understand each other, and for business to flow in the most efficient manner possible. While effective communication is necessary in all human relationships, it is even more critical in businesses of all sizes in order for confusion to be mitigated, and everyone is on the same page.
Humans rely on communication to express personal desires of what needs to be done, and how it is to be done. In a business, this is most important for both managers and employees to effectively express what they want done, and how they want it to be done. Communication is always a two-way, mutual set of actions that includes the communicator, and the receiver. Typically, communication will include two or more communicators and receivers, and spoken communication will often illicit a reply from the initial receiver.
A set of clear-cut principles exists, that every business should follow, to ensure all personnel, including C-suite executives and employees, effectively and ethically communicate in the workplace. Ultimately creating a comfortable, efficient environment where everyone is on the same page, and everyone is aligned to the principles and values of the enterprise. These ethical communication principles stem form a critical framework of values that every CEO should seek to discuss with all employees, executives, managers, and shareholders so the business is able to effectively leverage its relationships to better its bottom and top lines.
What Is Ethical Communication?
While hard skills are invaluable in any industry, there is a greater knowledge among SMEs - and larger enterprises - that soft skills and emotional intelligence are just as important in establishing effective workplace relationships that can produce results. While logical intelligence denotes one’s cognitive brainpower, emotional intelligence is based on an empathetic ability to understand people, which relates to having the ability to effectively communicate with people. Soft skills represent the other side of an employee’s personal skill set, and encompasses a group of workplace competencies focusing on working well with others - including the most critical soft skill, which is the skill of communication. And while there are many different types of communication principles that businesses need to know about, ethical communication is the most important.
Ethical Communication Defined
Ethical communication is a type of communication that is predicated upon certain business values, such as being truthful, concise, and responsible with one’s words and the resulting actions. As a set of principles, ethical communication understands that one’s thoughts must be conveyed and expressed effectively and concisely, and that the resulting actions or consequences will [potentially] be based solely on how the message was communicated. Thus, ethical communication defines a framework or set of acceptable communication principles that align with an enterprise’s overarching code of conduct or code of ethics.
Fundamentals Of Ethical Communication
Perhaps the main principle of ethical communication is honesty, as other factors stem from this core value of presenting information in the most reliable and factual way possible. Any attempt to mislead or present confusing information is not ethical communication. Additionally, the “honesty” principle of ethical communication is linked inexorably to other core principles - consistency and responsibility. This entails that information presented to different parties be consistent, and that short-term and long-term consequences of the honest communication are to be accepted as one’s responsibility.
Ethical communication also assumes that communicated information is always presented (and received by the listener) according to one’s subjective perception, even if only in the most minimal way, and thus the goal of ethical communication is to be as objective as possible when communicating with others, and to ensure that every recipient receives the same message.
Openness and Transparency
Truthfulness & honesty is the most core principle of ethical communication. This means that speaking 99 percent of the truth in a matter - while leaving out one percent of the facts - is not ethical communication, as omitting any detail (intentionally) changes the way that a listener will perceive an event. Thus, being 100 percent open and transparent, and hiding nothing, is key in order for all business relationships - whether within a business between its members, or with business and their partners, or even customers - to succeed in the short term and long term.
Being honest is linked to one’s personal and professional trustworthiness and integrity. In a perfect world, all members of an organization would have a positive reputation of honesty, such that listeners never doubt that what they are saying is 100 percent true. Within an organization - and between businesses - this type of honest communication can be the difference between a project being completed successfully or not. For instance, utilizing ethical communication to be honest about time and/or budget constraints during a board meeting with primary stakeholders can be the difference between the project meeting its goals, or failing due to misunderstandings and/or miscommunication. Thus, one of the primary goals of ethical communication is to prevent any misunderstandings or instances of miscommunication.
Consideration for Any Potential Roadblocks
When communicating with another party, truly ethical communication entails considering any potential factor that may influence how the recipient understands - or receives - the information that is being communicated. If there are any known roadblocks, then ethical communication principles dictate that the speaker/communicator utilize whatever means possible to mitigate or attenuate the roadblocks and ensure that the recipients of the information are able to fully understand what is being communicated.
Several examples are below where roadblocks may present themselves, resulting in the communicator needing to take steps to attenuate any potential instances of miscommunication:
Obviously, ethical communication dictates that speakers utilize the language that listeners understand. It would make little sense to present a business presentation in English to a non-English speaking Chinese audience. Taking this example further, it would also be unethical to communicate the information mostly in Chinese, with a certain section in English, presenting only parts of the data to the Chinese audience.
Every industry has its own jargon. When speaking to a layperson, it is ethical to speak with simple, easy-to-understand words, while avoiding the use of heavy jargon, resulting in portions of the presentation/communication being incomprehensible to a portion of the audience.
Ethical communication takes into account the level of fluency as well as the language spoken by listeners, so that recipients of the communication (whether it be spoken or written) are able to fully understand what is being communicated.
Accessibility to Technology
In this information and digital age, some take accessibility to advanced technology for granted. For instance, while smartphones are readily available, and translation apps are abundant, not everyone is able to access such applications or platforms. If a business wanted to present certain pieces of information to an audience while expecting the audience to translate it into their native language via an application, there may be confusion. Thus, the ability to access certain technology - and the know-how on how to use certain applications - may be a roadblock when it comes to ethically communicating to a particular audience.
Development of Relationship
The art of communication allows people to express themselves in order to develop relationships. In a business, this can be an employee dealing with a manager, executives communicating with stakeholders, or managers talking with other business representatives. It is critical for there to be no confusion or misunderstandings when businesses try to develop relationships within themselves, and with other business entities or clients/customers. To accomplish this, ethical communication principles must be followed, ensuring that all parties can receive the consistent truth, and understand what needs to be done, and how it needs to be done.
Principles of Ethical Communication
There are a myriad of core principles associated with ethical communication, starting with the core value of honesty that all other values are connected to. However, it can be said that there is a value underlying honesty (with regard to ethical communication) and that is emotional intelligence/empathy as the precursor of all soft skills, which allows all personnel to be understood, and to effectively communicate with others. Emotional intelligence, within the framework of ethical communication, allows one to understand the needs of others, and meet those needs in the most efficient manner possible as if you were in their shoes.
1. Be Truthful And Honest
Being honest means communicating what is known to be true (only 100 percent the facts) to a listener, with no intent to deceive or present only parts of the truth. It also means being as objective as possible, that is, not tailoring the story based on what the speaker wants the listener to believe. Letting the listener take the data that is objectively presented and believe what they choose to believe is a core goal of ethical communication. Ethical communication should be based on accurate information and facts - in a word, do not lie.
2. Active Listening
Hearing someone and listening to them are two different things. In order for ethical communication to be effective, it is necessary for the recipient to pro-actively listen to the speaker, and to not just hear what they want to hear, or to hear only parts of the conversation. This also means asking questions when any point is not completely understood, for the sake of clarification.
3. Speak Non-Judgmentally
Ethically and concisely communicating means speaking in a non-judgmental manner with every recipient, negating unnecessary conflict, which typically creates a breakdown in communication and causes misunderstandings. Unnecessary conflict is never good for any business, and such conflicts usually result from unethical communications, with judgmental, accusatory, and overly-critical comments often being the catalyst for such breakdowns in communication.
4. Speak From Your Own Experience
Bringing your personal experience into a dialogue with business listeners is important, providing backup for your arguments with something more tangible. Such a communication method (experiential communication) paints a complete picture for your audience and helps to prove your points so that the listeners have a better understanding of what is being said.
5. Consider the Receiver’s Preferred Communication Channel
You risk losing an audience if you use a communication channel that is not preferred by your intended receiver. To effectively communicate with your listeners, use the most preferred communication channel, whether that be face-to-face, email, conference call, phone call, messenger app, etc. Also, when presenting data to a business audience, be aware of the preferred method of presentation for that business, whether it be graphs, slides, PowerPoint presentations, etc. Additionally, since body language is very important, it is often preferred to meet business clients face-to-face.
6. Strive To Understand
While it is important to be proactive in listening, it is important for listeners to also strive to fully understand what is being said before responding. While asking for clarification or confirmation of a point is fine, many times questions that listeners pose have already been answered. Listeners should think about what has been said before constructing a reply. Reading “in between the lines” is also an important skill that allows for understanding what isn’t said, but was implicitly said or implied.
7. Avoid A Negative Tone
Ethically communicating assumes the speaker will avoid rudeness, be polite and professional, and have tact. The ethical communicator knows that it’s not only important what you say, but how you say it. Tone is one of the most critical facets of communication. A listener may miss the meaning altogether if the tone is wrong, which can lead to unnecessary confrontations that decrease business productivity.
Controlling one’s tone goes along with self-control, a soft skill that allows one to know how they wish to reply to a terse business message (for instance) versus the most effective manner for replying. Essentially, keeping the tone positive or neutral is best, as the tone of a written message - or of one’s voice - is always picked up by the receiver, and can alter how the message is received and/or understood.
Additionally, while it is acceptable to be honest and open, tact - and professional maturity - means knowing when it is inappropriate to speak up, and when it is crucial to. Tact also means knowing that being completely honest does not equate with being rude or negative - it is possible to be completely honest and open with one’s thoughts and feelings while still remaining polite and respectful.
8. Do Not Interrupt Others
Allowing others to speak is important for the creation of a civil, effective working environment. Interrupting others results in misunderstandings and unnecessary conflicts and a breakdown in workplace communications, which only hinders corporate progress and creates problems. Interrupting others not only shows a lack of respect, but does not allow the listener to fully grasp what is being said, which often results in incorrect assumptions being made.
9. Respect Privacy And Confidentiality
Most businesses should include a clause in their code of ethics defining what is appropriate when it comes to honoring client and employee confidentiality and privacy. This can have a wide range of implications, including minimizing workplace gossip, and mitigating toxic conversations about the private lives of clients and/or personnel.
10. Accept Responsibility
As noted before, a core tenant within any ethical communication framework is taking responsibility for the actions that result from one’s words, whether it be good or bad. This includes both short term and long term consequences of one’s communications. Owning one’s words reinforces the importance of being conscientious about ethical communication.
Example Of Ethical Communication
There are a myriad of examples of how ethical communication can change the outcome of a problem in a business or workplace environment, revealing why ethical communication principles should be followed:
Medical industry: In the medical industry, not only is there the key HIPAA regulation, but there are numerous medical codes of ethics that medical professionals have to follow, with regard to their actions, conduct, and communications. These principles ensure that all patients and fellow medical professionals have their rights protected. For instance, doctors are required by law to not divulge private information about patients to anyone whom the patient has not consented to be privy to such private info.
Property Consulting industry: Ethical communications in the property consulting industry can take several forms, including revealing key pieces of information to would-be home owners of a property, including “negative” truths about the property - for example, divulging the entire history of the property, including any accidents or crimes that happened in the property.
Marketing industry: Ethical communications in the marketing industry can include revealing to clients that their business marketing applications are not optimal, and that a cheaper vendor, or a different form of marketing, will yield better results.
Virtually every industry can benefit from ethical communication principles, which always seeks to ensure that every enterprise member is able to present valuable pieces of information so that the best decisions can be made.
Ethical Communication In An Organization
In business organizations, communicating concisely, ethically, and appropriately are all necessary so a business can operate effectively and efficiently. Operating according to a communication-based code of ethics is important for both small and large scale person-to-person conversations. For larger audiences it is often important for business members to employ additional values to their communication principles, such as:
Choosing the right place/time: Speaking about a particular topic in a business often requires choosing the most pertinent and appropriate time and place in order for the message to be most effective. This requires knowing the recipients and having tact, along with utilizing strategy and planning.
Knowing one’s Audience: Certain audiences may prefer different verbiage or jargon, or may prefer one communication channel over another. Being an effective communicator means knowing your audience in order to communicate in the way that he/she will understand the best.
Business communication requires ethical values to form the foundation of all of its relationships, which ensures that all enterprise workflows, short term projects, and long term projects are effectively managed and carried out. Any lapse in efficient and ethical communication can result in misunderstandings, conflicts, delays with projects, and the creation of an ineffective working environment
Learn how to avoid communication breakdown: read the 8 Usual Causes of Communication Breakdown in Business