The purpose of business is to make money. Behaving ethically serves that purpose. People prefer doing business with ethical companies, companies they can trust, so in the long run the ethical company benefits from its behavior. This means that the goal of ethical business communication is to build the trust and credibility of the company. The International Association of Business Communicators maintains that companies that the practice of ethical business communication also increases a team feeling among employees and boosts employee morale. To accomplish these goals, corporate communication must strive to attain certain specific ethical goals.
It is to a company’s benefit to be honest. Honesty is the basis of trust. If others feel that they can believe what a company says, they will trust it. Other factors being equal, people prefer doing business with a company they can trust. Honesty means saying what you believe to be true, but it also means distinguishing fact from opinion. It is easy to disguise opinion as fact. Some television news commentators do it every day, and their credibility suffers for it. They may be considered entertaining, but what they say is taken with a grain of salt. Consultant Michelle Howe advises any company that wants to be trusted to clearly label opinion as such, and to present what it has to say in an unbiased manner.
Distinguishing fact from opinion is part of a larger goal of being clear and easy to understand. Ethical business communication calls for being clearly understood. It means that the company is not seen as attempting to obfuscate or confuse the public and other companies with whom it does business. Timeliness of communication can also help. Within the company, acknowledging problems and keeping relevant people informed with clear and direct communications helps dampen the “rumor mill” and maintains better employee morale.
Few things create as much tension as when someone presents another person’s ideas as his own. Employees want credit for their work, so failure to acknowledge them is not only unethical but also bad for morale. Some people believe that concerns about plagiarism are only important in academic settings, but anytime someone is caught “borrowing” someone else’s ideas without proper acknowledgment, trustworthiness takes a nosedive. Most people realize it’s important to use quotations when citing direct statements from others, but it’s also good practice and sound business to acknowledge ideas that are not your own.
Taking Care with Confidential Information
Confidential information is a special class of information that requires special attention. The North Carolina State University business department emphasizes the importance of the ethical business practice of protecting confidential information while complying with public disclosure laws. Any use of confidential information for personal gain is also clearly unethical.