Ethics in Communications

Communication has, for a long time, been one of the most crucial
elements or aspects in life. In fact, it has been touted as the most
powerful and crucial motivator in any person’s life. It goes without
saying that communication has the capacity to change or modify the
direction that an individual’s life takes. For instance, parents and
teachers have the capacity to motivate and even have a significant
influence on a child with a single comment, even in instances where the
comment is a light “throwaway” comment. In some instances, a
person’s viewpoint may inspire another individual to take on a
life-long and fulfilling journey, or even give them the conviction that
the as to the achievable nature of their dreams. Needless to say,
creative and effective communication allows for increased honesty
levels, as well as strong and long-lasting relationships. It is worth
noting that communication skills can be developed and improved as it
revolved around the capacity of an individual that connects him
spiritually with other people. As much as there are numerous goals of
communication, the most fundamental ones include enhancing trust,
wisdom, and understanding tolerance. In addition, it plays a key role in
building relationships societies, families and friendships (Makau,
1997). Obviously, these things underline the importance of communication
in the society. This, however, begs the question as to the key to
effective communication. It is worth noting that effective communication
revolves around agreement rather than control. It goes without saying
that any individual would have the capacity to eliminate resistance in
an effective manner through communication rather than force, simply
because communication allows individuals to establish agreement between
them and other people. Agreement is mainly gained in instances where
everyone is allowed to win, or at least allowed to think that they have
won. This underlines the notion and importance of ethics in
Ethics is mainly defined as the rules of conduct that are recognized as
pertaining to a certain group, culture of human actions. These are the
standards set for a certain group or class of people as to what is
expected of their standards for purpose and quality of their
communication. In essence, ethics in communication mainly place
boundaries as to how and individual treats or does not treat other
people (Makau, 1997). These ethics are never imposed on individuals
rather people establish them for themselves. The incorporation of ethics
of communication is recognition of the power of communication and the
respect of the same.
However, it is worth noting that communication as a discipline, human
act or process of knowledge may not be much relevant when combined with
the aspect of ethics (Makau, 1997). In essence, the ethics in
communication discourse leads directly to details pertaining to the
ethical standards that are maintained and upheld by communicators.
Scholars note that the ethical standards pertaining to communication are
also founded on the varied cultures, religions and principles that
define what an individual holds as right or wrong (Makau, 1997). This
underlines the fact that the ethics of communication that an individual
may hold as essential may vary with what other people may even value.
Evidently, ethics are clearly tied to morality. The notion of morality
changes with different people and different cultures.
As much as this may be the case, there are certain principles that
crosscut every religion, culture or personal discipline as far as
communication. These are aspects that have to be incorporated in any
form of communication so as to safeguard effectiveness and ensure that
the people concerned reach an agreement (Makau, 1997). These ethics
underline the difference between what is considered good and evil,
virtuous and non-virtuous features of individuals, and wrong and right
human activities. These are the principles or ideas that guide effective
communication and distinguish between right and wrong. These would not
only be applicable in small groups but also large groups of people so as
to gain consensus or agreement. As scholars note, ethical communication
promotes human dignity and worth by allowing for truthfulness, personal
integrity, fairness, responsibility, as well as fairness for oneself and
other people (Makau, 1997). Ethical communication, therefore, must
consider responsibility and caring for oneself, as well as other people.
One of the most fundamental ethics in communication is listening to
other people as they speak (Arneson, 2007). Scholars have noted that,
the greatest part of speaking is not in uttering words rather it is in
listening to other people and giving other people an opportunity to
speak. In fact, there can be no communication in instances where only
one individual is speaking without or asking questions without giving
other people a moment to reply or contribute to the conversation
(Arneson, 2007). As scholars note, denying other people an opportunity
to speak leaves them feeling unworthy and lowers their self-esteem, in
which case they are disengaged from the conversation. This means that no
agreement would be reached without listening otherwise the conversation
would be aimed at controlling rather than agreeing.
In addition, it is imperative that an individual avoids interrupting
other people during conversations, or even engaging in side
conversations (Arneson, 2007). It goes without saying that such a
behavior comes out as rude especially to the speaker, in which case it
may be difficult for him or her to express his true feeling about an
issue. This underlines the fact that the interruptions and side
conversations would hinder effective communication and agreement
(Arneson, 2007).
In addition, it is imperative that one respects other people’s
personal boundaries irrespective of the type of conversation (Makau,
1997). Everyone has issues that he or she would not wish to discuss in
public or even divulge to certain people or in certain situations. In
fact, some of these issues would only be discussed once the individuals
are prepared to talk about them and are sure about the people to whom
they are talking. In essence, such individuals would likely feel
cornered or ambushed in cases where their personal boundaries are not
respected. In fact, the feeling of being offended would be likely to
breed defensive conversations or even brew arguments and bad blood
amongst individuals (Glenister & Arnett, 2008). Needless to say, such
disrespect of personal boundaries would stand in the way of effective
communication. In most cases, such individuals would think that the
speaker is attacking their character or ideas. It is, therefore,
imperative that individuals determine what the audience or other people
would be comfortable handling in the private and public conversations.
This breeds feelings of respect and mutual understanding, which allows
people to open up their true feelings and, thereby, aid effective
communication (Glenister & Arnett, 2008). It is worth noting that,
respect for boundaries does not only entail other people’s boundaries
but also one’s own. Individuals must ensure that they only talk about
or incorporate things that they are comfortable sharing in their
conversations as this would foster openness and effective communication.
In addition, it is imperative that one desists from speaking
judgmentally either about other people or their views (Glenister &
Arnett, 2008). This principle also underlines the importance or
desisting from speaking for other people by, for instance,
characterizing their views without reexamining one’s understanding or
even universalizing one’s conclusions, beliefs, values and opinions.
In most cases, there exists a possibility that one is misinterpreting
other people’s views (Arneson, 2007). In any case, no person would be
comfortable having his or her privacy infringed upon, in which case such
generalization would be likely to impede opening up and effective
communication. In essence, it is always imperative that the analysis of
other people’s views is done objectively and clarification sought in
instances where some things are unclear (Glenister & Arnett, 2008). This
would not only allow for participation and ownership of conversation
among all parties concerned, but the participants would also have trust
for each other, something that would breed effective communication.
As much as ethics may be a fundamental aspect of effective
communication, there are various ethical dilemmas that may be faced
during communication. In most cases, an individual has to chose between
doing what may be considered ethical or picking another option (Arneson,
One of the most common ethical dilemmas surrounding communication is
secrecy. Secrets may be kept for either dishonorable or honorable
reasons and may be used to invade intimacy or guard it. This presents a
challenge to individuals in determining the justifiable nature of
secrets (Arneson, 2007). It goes without saying that, in instances where
too much secrecy is incorporated, it ends up hindering their innovation
and creativity. Organizations, on the other hand, need to limit access
to certain information especially from their competitors. This,
therefore, presents a dilemma as to whether they should disclose certain
pieces of information.
In addition, whistle blowing comes as one of the ethical dilemmas. In
most cases, employees will go public with information pertaining to the
negligence and corporate abuses, something that is required of them
(Arneson, 2007). However, corporations legitimately expect that their
employees will be loyal to them. In addition, the motivation of some
whistle-blowers is simply misplaced especially in instances where it is
motivated by revenge, jealousy and greed. In addition, there are
instances when employees cannot tell the difference between private and
public interest. Of course, it is imperative that the public is informed
about potentially hazardous practices of corporations. On the other
hand, it is difficult to define the true motivations of whistle-blowers
(Keeble, 2005). This is the same case for leaks, which are essentially
anonymous whistle-blowing, with the distinguishing factor being that the
individual leaking the info would not be available for
cross-examination. In essence, it would be difficult to ascertain the
claim’s credibility. In any case, the accused would have no idea why
the information has been released. In any case, the “whistle-blower”
may do it for dishonorable or honorable reasons. In addition, it may be
just part of a smear campaign, a way of political maneuvering all in an
effort to sabotage another person’s career (Glenister & Arnett, 2008).
On the other hand, the allegations made may be legitimate, made with the
sole aim of aiding the public. However, choosing or determining which is
applicable becomes a problem.
Another thing that presents an ethical dilemma to an individual or
organization is euphemism. This is defined as the use of expressions
that are deemed to be less offensive than the real ones that may cause
distress in the audience and the participants concerned. For instance,
it is considered more preferable to use the term “permanently
borrowing” than to say “stealing”, which comes with a negative
connotation (Arneson, 2007). This is the same case for having the term
“consideration fee” to define the acceptance of a “bribe”,
which, in fact, comes with a negative connotation and creates an
unpleasant image pertaining to the individual. However, it goes without
saying that the use of these words or terms comes as an impediment or
hindrance of the true picture, which is ethically unacceptable (Keeble,
2005). On the other hand, an individual would also be considered to have
feelings for other people and use words that would not be deemed too
harsh or harmful to an individual. This is obviously a dilemma as an
individual would not know which route would be most appropriate for him
to take.
Nevertheless, there are various ways in which dilemmas pertaining to
ethics in communication may be resolved. First, it would be imperative
that one determines the legality of a certain action. It goes without
saying that, in instances where a certain issue is encompassed in law or
declared illegal by law, one has no option but to follow the legal
boundaries pertaining to the same, irrespective of how harmful it may
seem to another party. Alternatively, an individual may look into his or
her conscious in determining how to deal with a dilemma pertaining to
ethics in communication (Keeble, 2005). It is worth noting that if an
individual determines that he has a clear conscious and intent, then the
statement would be appropriate irrespective of its accuracy. In fact,
scholars have underlined the fact that even in instances where a
statement is accurate or factual, it would be inappropriate if the
intent is unbecoming or immoral. On the same note, it would be helpful
for an individual to determine the accuracy of information before going
ahead and talking about it. However, the intent of disclosing or
communicating about certain information would require that an individual
is solely driven by the need to protect the public or organization and
enhancing the quality of services offered, as well as the trust in the
relationships between people (Keeble, 2005).
In conclusion, communication has been one of the most crucial and
fundamental elements of the society. It aids in building trust,
relationships, as well as increased honesty levels. However, it is worth
noting that the sole aim of communication is agreement. Agreement is
mainly gained in instances where everyone is allowed to win, or at least
allowed to think that they have won. In essence, it is imperative that
communication is of certain ethical standards. Ethics in communication
mainly involve listening to other parties, desisting from disrupting
them or holding side-conversations, respecting personal boundaries both
for self and other people’s, desisting from being judgmental of other
people’s views and opinions and seeking clarity when they do not
understand (Glenister & Arnett, 2008). However, there are varied ethical
dilemmas that impede ethics in communication. These include euphemism,
whistle-blowing and secrecy. For example, an individual would be held
captive by the requirements of an organization pertaining to the loyalty
of its workers, yet be obligated to disclose any unbecoming practices
that would be harmful to the public (Glenister & Arnett, 2008). In
addition, an individual would consider the feelings of other people as
far as uttering certain statements is concerned and, therefore, use a
euphemism, whereas he would be required to be accurate in giving facts
pertaining to the behavior of another person.
Glenister, R. K., & Arnett, R. C. (2008). Communication ethics: between
cosmopolitanism and provinciality. New York: P. Lang.
Makau, J. M. (1997). Communication ethics in an age of diversity.
Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.
Arneson, P. (2007). Exploring communication ethics: Interviews with
influential scholars in the field. New York: Peter Lang.
Keeble, R. (2005). Communication ethics today. Leicester, UK: Troubador
Pub. Ltd.