Ethical and Unethical Communication

Ethical and Unethical Communication

1. Introduction

One of the most common forms of communication is the use of power persuasion. Whether it be salesmen trying to sell a product, parents trying to get their children to behave, or a lawyer defending his client, the use of persuasive communication is unavoidable. It is here that ethical and unethical communication can be most contrasted.

A complex lie may be an attempt to protect oneself or someone else from an embarrassing or incriminating situation. Although the intentions are good, the act of lying is unethical as it does not reveal the truth. In both examples of the joke and the lie, it is easy to see how one can slip into unethical communication without realizing it.

In any form of communication, consideration of what we want to accomplish is crucial. People communicate for all sorts of reasons and often do not consider the consequences of their message. A simple joke and a complex lie both have the same foundation of wanting to achieve amusement or avoidance of punishment. A joke with no negative repercussions can be seen as harmless. The joke teller would likely believe that it is ethical communication. However, consider the same joke told in bad taste with negative racial slurs. This would then be considered unethical communication, although it is the same message.

Unethical communication is self-explanatory and is a message that has a negative effect in its context. Usually, this type of communicative message is the result of someone who has not considered the implications of their message or has allowed their emotions to take over, resulting in a rash and thoughtless statement.

Ethical communication is that which considers the moral aspect of one’s message. It is usually concerned with the effect that the message will have on the receiver and whether the message is right or wrong. For communication to be truly ethical, both the sender and the receiver must agree that the message itself is right in the given context. Easier said than done, this process can be quite difficult, as people’s differing cultural and religious backgrounds can alter views on what is right and wrong.

“Ethical and Unethical Communication” is a subject of great depth and, in itself, very broad. It covers a range of communication mediums and, in essence, is primarily focused on two different forms of communicating: Ethical and Unethical. While this is so, it is also important to consider the ramifications of one’s communicative behavior. One needs to think about what effects their message might have on the receiver and whether the consequences are beneficial or detrimental to an individual or group.

2. Ethical Communication

Robbins et al. describe two interdependent processes of interpersonal communication and ethical communication. This is because ethical communication, in essence, is designing the same information so that others will evaluate it as being both honest and morally correct. Ethical communication is greatly affected by the company one is in and the person to whom communication is being directed. For example, a professional sports coach may be approached by somebody from a different department regarding ideas for the department in changing jobs. The coach will have to evaluate the potential gains for changing jobs based on the information that is conveyed to him. If he hears that the department has been underachieving, it is probable that he will try and offer the person the job in an attempt to rejuvenate the department back to its proper gallant standing. He will do this by using all available information to form ideas that are expected to be conveyed in an ethical manner. This is compared to communication with a colleague regarding the recent advancements in health and fitness research. The coach can convey an ethical image by upholding the professional integrity of his work and avoiding over-glorifying the potential gains of his ideas on the colleague.

How do we communicate in ways that society considers to be “right” or “moral”? While at face level, this concept appears to be relatively straightforward, basic social etiquette and moral conduct tend to be taken much less seriously in our everyday communication behaviors. For example, taking credit for someone else’s work is considered to be a severe immoral conduct almost anywhere in the world, yet a common practice in the modern workplace. Against this, ethical communication is considered an extremely important detail in terms of the communication climate because it is the process of achieving an honest and morally correct exchange of information, creating a high morale atmosphere, and preventing motives of personal or professional gain at the expense of someone’s self-worth.

3. Unethical Communication

A classic example is a public statement from the US President Richard Nixon in 1973 during the Watergate scandal: “I am not a crook.” After all investigation, the President did indeed have a role in covering up the scandal, and the fact wasn’t brought to public knowledge until later, which led to Nixon’s resignation in the following year. In Nixon’s scenario, the statement played a vital role in later days and was enough cause for his downfall. Such lies are termed as half-truths and can have serious implications in the future.

When we talk of ethics, we talk or refer to two types of people. There is the ideal whose idea of a principle is committing to what has been decided upon in absolute terms. Then there is the rest of the world which believes that principles are flexible, to be adapted according to the circumstances. All said and done, it is the human urge to suppress a fact, a lie designed to mislead, and any such attempt to deviate from the truth is unethical. This is because a lie is equivalent to hiding something, and the suppressed information has a probability of playing a vital role at a later date, and facts being revealed that had been concealed may result in even awkward situations and conflicts.

Unethical communication – at a glance, it suggests all communication that is against socially accepted, predefined norms. But when we dig in deeper, it refers to any communication, usually oral and written, which can be false, deceiving, or misleading, or even get someone to believe something that isn’t true. Here is where the problem with ethics kicks in. We know that ethics are a set of moral principles or values, and unethical communication violates these principles.

4. Impact of Ethical Communication

Nevertheless, it is evident that ethical communication has a better chance of promoting genuine care and concern between communicators than unethical communication.

This is not to imply that unethical communicators are completely devoid of rewarding interpersonal relationships. One study reported in the review compared couples where one partner suffered from multiple sclerosis and found that, while the healthy partners of both ethical and unethical patients did not differ in levels of depression, anxiety, and caregiver burden, the healthy partners of the unethical patients experienced worse subjective health and the patients themselves were more likely to express negative affect.

This conclusion is supported by a study which found that when one of a pair in a conversation violated the conversational maxims, the partner was more likely to give non-verbal signs of confusion and to question the other in an attempt to clear up the confusion than in a control condition where a different topic was substituted for the one that led to confusion. Other studies reported in the review found that individuals were more likely to express empathy and to provide positive evaluation of a partner when discussing topics of personal significance.

In terms of the impact of ethical communication, the review is replete with evidence of its positive contribution to personal relationships. Not only does it appear to facilitate the development of more intimate and satisfying relations between communicators on the occasions where an episode of self-disclosure occurs, it also appears to engender other-oriented concern and responsiveness.

5. Conclusion

Unethical communication may appear to be more beneficial to some; however, in the long run, ethical communication proves to be more beneficial. Ethical communication in the workplace encourages and increases the moral development of the team, which results in increased job satisfaction. This, in turn, raises the productivity of work. Ethical communication avoids many problems as information is accurate and clear. Without unethical findings and deterrence, a team can reach its goals much more effectively.

In the organizations considered, the culture and climate are not conducive to the practice and encouragement of ethical communication. Ethical communication requires free and honest information, speaking, and listening in the process of message transaction. A check on whether a communication practice is ethical or not can be done with the following questions.

Unethical communication is communication that is not guided by the values and the well-being of the members of society. It results in self-centered communication that manipulates, deceives, and abuses others.

Communication is a two-way process that, if used skillfully, can lead a person or team to reach their predetermined goals. Unfortunately, there are times when communication can result in a negative effect.

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