There’s no single reason that companies fall victim to the unethical behavior of their officers, managers and employees. Sometimes a breach of ethics is motivated by simple greed; at other times, it’s caused by employees following the bad example of the business’s leaders.
Regardless of the circumstances that may precipitate unethical activity in business, the best way for organizations to ensure that their employees behave ethically in their work activities is to promote clear, honest and complete communication in the organization and with customers and business partners. Professionals can develop a deeper understanding of ethics and hone business communication skills by pursuing an online Master of Arts in Business Communication degree.
Defining Ethics in Business Communication
Ethics in business communication is the foundation of decision-making and responsible strategic planning required to promote growth. Telling the truth is always just the start: business ethics must be at the core of relationship building, whether between individuals, companies, or a firm and its customers and community. Ethical communication must accommodate various business contexts, cultures and media. Businesses need to take responsibility for the messages they convey, whether the communication is between two co-workers, from senior management to all staff or from the marketing department to customers.
Why Are Ethics in Business Communication Important?
The best way to appreciate the importance of ethics in business communication is to consider the devastating effect a lack of ethics can have on a company. One of the most egregious examples of bad corporate behavior in recent years is Wells Fargo & Co., which was fined $185 million in 2016 after it was discovered that bank employees had created 3.5 million fraudulent accounts over the prior seven years. The New York Times reports that even after the bank’s firing of more than 5,000 employees and engaging in a “Re-Established” marketing campaign in the years that followed, Wells Fargo employees claim the bank’s unethical practices continue.
Business ethics begin at the top of an organization. If a company doesn’t practice honest, forthright communication with employees, business partners and customers, employees are more likely to respond with behavior that mirrors the leadership. Conversely, if the company’s leaders are forthright through their actions and their words that unethical behavior will not be countenanced, workers are more prone to follow the company’s ethical guidelines.
Principles of Ethical Communication
Honesty and forthrightness in business dealings are more likely to take hold in an organization with an ethical code of conduct throughout its operations. Bizfluent lists the “foundational elements” of ethical business communication:
- Communicate fact-based messages truthfully and completely.
- Respect freedom of expression, diverse perspectives and dissenting opinions.
- Never offend or provoke others.
- Make the facts and resources on which the communication relies accessible to others.
- Consider the ability of the audience to understand the message (for example, anticipate language barriers and eliminate distractions that may impede the message).
- Never communicate anything that may be construed as demeaning, intolerant or hateful.
However, the most important principle of ethical business communication is a commitment by officers and senior managers to promote professional and personal ethics. As the American Management Association states, “Truth is Job One.”
Helping Organizations Build Trust with Customers and Employees
As with any aspect of running an organization, ethics in business communication starts by devising a plan, which usually takes the form of a code of ethics. However, putting a code of ethics into practice across an organization requires educating employees about its specifics and importance in work-related communications.
The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) notes that poor communication in business risks not only the company’s success, but also the success of entire industries and even people’s lives. The IABC Code of Ethics for professional communicators emphasizes being honest; being accurate; obeying all laws; protecting personal information; respecting free speech; honoring all cultures and beliefs; giving credit when due; and never profiting personally at the expense of the company, its employees or partners.
How a Master of Arts in Business Communication Promotes Ethical Communication
Preparing business leaders to instill ethics in their employees is a primary goal of Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Business Communication (MABC) degree program. Graduates are trained in techniques and strategies for applying ethics in day-to-day business communication and building trust with employees, business partners, and potential and existing customers. Business professionals at any stage of their careers can benefit through improved written, verbal and visual presentation skills that make them more effective in promoting ethical business practices and thus their careers.
Courses featured in the program that strengthen a businessperson’s communication ability include the following:
- Legal and Ethical Issues for Professional Communicators. This course teaches students how to understand and apply ethical standards, regulations and guidelines in business communication.
- Corporate and Persuasive Discourse. This course describes approaches to crisis management, including how to influence opinion and behavior via carefully crafted messages.
- Communication in Multicultural Workplaces. This course emphasizes the importance for managers at all levels to understand and respect gender, ethnic, religious and other differences among their workforces.
- Communication and Organizational Culture. This course presents strategies for managing the company’s culture, including its communication methods and how culture impacts the company’s performance.
Career Opportunities for Experts in Business Communication Ethics
To avoid becoming the next Wells Fargo, a company must ensure that ethical business communication becomes a fundamental part of all its operations. The negative impact of corporate ethics scandals of the past heightens the need for skilled business communication professionals able to promote ethical communication with the public and other businesses, as well as in the organization itself. Demand for business communication experts is especially strong in finance and insurance; manufacturing; information; health care; and professional, scientific and technical services.
Ethics training for managers and employees is spearheaded by business communication professionals able to put into practice the real-world skills they’ve learned in programs such as Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Business Communication program. In 2017, the median earnings of young adults with a master’s or higher degree were $65,000, some 26% higher than those of young adults with a bachelor’s degree ($51,800). Learn more about the many benefits of Rider University’s online MABC program.