The Importance of Ethical Communication (Ethical Communication Series Part 1 of 3)
Ethical communication is essential for upholding a strong culture of compliance in the workplace. When done correctly, ethical communications can bolster your company’s character and decrease overall risk. However, when ethics are cast aside, businesses can face severe financial, legal, and reputational costs.
Because ethical communication is so critical for every business, we created a three-part series that outlines the importance of communicating ethically and the impact it has on real businesses. In part one, we will break down the tenets of ethical communication and explore the “dos and don’ts” of putting it into action.
What Is Ethical Communication?
Put simply, ethical communication is communicating in a way that’s honest, open, clear, and respectful. These four pillars are essential for upholding strong communication ethics within your business. When even one pillar is left out, your foundation of ethics begins to weaken and crumble.
It may seem obvious, but don’t lie! Not only is it unethical, but spreading lies is the #1 way for your business to lose the trust of its customers and stakeholders. Without trust, your reputation will suffer, and customers are likely to stop buying from you. To ensure your communications are consistently honest, stick to the facts. Stretching the truth, making assumptions, and reading between the lines will only hurt your business in the long run.
Aside from confidential information, there’s usually no such thing as TMI in business. You need to pair your honesty with a willingness to share in order to be truly ethical. For example, a business may communicate in a way that’s technically 100% honest, but omits relevant information from customers and stakeholders. Because the withheld information has the potential to influence decision-making, the company is not practicing good communication ethics. Company’s need to be transparent about every relevant aspect of their business, even if the news is negative.
In many cases, misconduct isn’t born out of malicious intent, but misunderstanding. After all, it only takes one poorly worded document or passing comment to create a chain of confusion that spirals into misconduct. Because every person in your target audience must be able to understand your meaning, your business communications need to be as clear and concise as possible.
It should go without saying that ethical communications are respectful and tolerant in nature. When creating business communications, be mindful of the diverse identities of your intended audience and how they might interpret your message. The recipient should always feel like your company values their identity, ideas, and opinions. Using respectful communication will help promote a culture of open communication, decreasing potential retaliation and reporting concerns.
Dos and Don’ts of Ethical Communication
Even the smallest of communications can have a big impact on your workplace’s ethical culture. Knowing what to consider and what to avoid is essential when crafting your business communications.
Do: Consider Your Audience
Who is going to be on the receiving end of your communications? Your boss? Coworkers? Customers? Depending on who your message is intended for, your communication style will likely vary. In order to make your message as clear and relevant as possible, always keep your intended audience front of mind. Considering your recipient’s needs, knowledge level, and relationship to you will help eliminate any uncertainty or unintended interpretations.
Don’t: Use Jargon
Some businesses might be tempted to use wordy language and jargon to impress their audience. However, don’t fall into the trap of “sesquipedalian loquaciousness” (AKA using big words to appear smarter). In fact, studies show that needlessly using long, complex words actually makes you appear less intelligent. The most likely outcome is that recipients simply won’t understand what you’re trying to say. Ultimately, this leads them to wonder if you’re intentionally misleading them and calls your business ethics into question.
Do: Prioritize Accessibility
Your speaking and writing efforts are only as good as your ability to share them with your audience. Prioritizing accessibility across language, technology, and ability shows your business is dedicated to including all people in its communications.
The world is made up of over 7,000 different languages. While it would be impossible (and unnecessary) for your business to include every single one, you should make an effort to communicate in the language of your intended audience. When communicating directly in the target language isn’t an option, offering translation services or subtitles is another best-practice way to ensure your audience understands the message. For example, a global company should offer multiple language options in its eLearning training courses to ensure employees across the world understand its content.
Despite the rapid advancement of technology, not everyone can access the internet or the equipment to do so reliably. Some audiences may have access to technology, but a limited understanding of its functionality. Businesses should consider what modes of communication their intended audience typically uses and make an effort to communicate across those channels. Not only is this a way to communicate ethically, but it’s an effective marketing strategy to meet customers where they’re at, even if it’s not in the digital realm. Companies can also use print resources and in-person training sessions to help bridge the technology gap among employees.
Imagine your company is preparing a video presentation for a client. After you press play, you notice your client can’t understand its contents because she is hard of hearing and the video was not embedded with subtitles. This is a major and embarrassing oversight for the company that could have been resolved by better preparing the communication materials. Before deploying your communications, consider how people with disabilities might interact with them. Additionally, because many disabilities are invisible to the eye or undisclosed to the public, never assume that your materials aren’t in need of more work. It’s always a good practice to see how your company can improve its accessibility efforts.
Don’t: Betray Customer Privacy
Do: Take Responsibility for Company Actions
At the end of the day, your business has a moral duty to practice ethical communication by standing up for what is right. That means stopping conversations that are heading toward a potentially non-compliant place and speaking up when you do witness misconduct. Taking responsibility can also go a long way to help your business rebuild trust after it’s been shattered. Following up with clear explanations of the company’s actions and committing to fixing the problem are also essential for holding your business accountable and mending relationships.
The Impact of Ethical Communication
Practicing ethical communication will help you build a foundation of trust in your business. Not only is practicing ethics the right thing to do — it’s profitable. The most ethical and just companies in America consistently outperform their competitors, usually by one to four stock percentage points. By standing to gain both a strong reputation and strong profit margins, your company has double the incentive to pay attention to ethical communication.