Ethical Communication

Define ethics and explain what ethical communication encompasses.

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I'm going to express a different opinion from the educator who described ethics as "a system of moral principles." While ethics and morals are both guides to what is right and wrong, the have several key differences between them.


  • Represent rules of conduct within a particular circumstance or class of action
  • Are imposed by a social system or external source
  • Are typically consistent within a single context but vary between contexts


  • Are high-level principles of conduct with general applicability
  • May be taught or instilled externally but are generally held and enforced by the individual
  • Are usually consistent across contexts

What that means is ethical communication is difficult to apply within a business context because the ethical standards by which communications are judged will vary significantly from context to context. For example, you might feel uncomfortable speculating on best-case scenarios without mentioning potential downsides, because you might feel it's immoral regardless of the circumstances. But that type of whitewashing is probably ethical for a salesman or entrepreneur, even if it would be unethical for an auditor or for the author of a yearly investment report.

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In business, ethical communication implies keeping privacy of customers and employees.  A business should also be honest with his employees and customers.  Businesses should not sell products that are unsafe or unhealthy.  Nonetheless, many businesses do all of these things.  They sell information, or dangerous products.

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Any speaker, and certainly a public speaker, has an obligation to speak truthfully and accurately.  The more public the position, the greater the need for ethical principles.  Consider the politician or the preacher who deliberately misleads his constituents.  We've had them, of course--think Jim Jones and David Koresh and, well, pick a politician.  There are consequences for such misleading or misinformed speech; adhering to ethical and moral principles will help ensure the fewest negative consequences for any speaker.  Conversely, there is likely to be positive action and reaction to those who speak from a moral and ethical position. 

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Ethics of course is a very important concept for today's world - many people get themselves into all sorts of difficulty by ignoring ethics and doing their own thing. Ethical communication, to my mind, ensures that you communicate all the essential information honestly and openly - you do not attempt to hide or downplay certain facts that might affect the opinion of your audience to what you have to say. You need go no further than the advertising world to see this in action, though arguably there is a very thin line between the truth we are told about products and the actual "truth".

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Ethics is a system of moral principles.  Which means that you try to do what is correct. 

Ethical communication encompasses being honest in all communications, keeping confidential information confidential, and not discussing the personal or business situations of others in public or in front of a third party. 

I recently was looking at website designers at a technology fair.  He was discussing the business problems of another person I knew with one of her former employees.  I did not consider this to be ethical communication and chose not to do business with him because of it. 

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