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For a business to be successful, it has to rely on communicating to its market and any other interested parties. Communication is important in establishing markets and also in formation of partnerships (Fenell, 2011). Professional communication needs proper ethics and etiquette. Some have suggested that ethics is a relative term meaning that various people have had different definitions of ethics. Generally, business ethics includes honesty, fairness, integrity and concern for others (McQueeny, 2006). All these values are important in establishing good business communication ethics. Businesses that communicate wrong information to their market or to the general public, gain negative publicity. Others choose to go by the saying any publicity is good publicity. This would mean that a business would do anything to get public attention. Howe (2008) explains that it has been a point of contention as to whether business and ethics are mutually exclusive to each other. This debate has mostly been prompted by the fact that most businesses do not consider ethics as a first priority. Guffey (2000) stipulates that there are certain steps to maintaining business communication ethics. These include telling the truth, labelling opinions, stating facts about a product, clear and unambiguous communication and avoidance of plagiarism. It is important to address the issue of ethical business communication because issues such as insider trading, bribery and other organisational white collar crimes have become rampant in recent times. Business communication ethics can be said to have two dimensions; one of them being lack of ethics in business results in white collar crime. There is also the public ethics aspect where a company complies with ethical standards in order to gain public acceptance.
Business Communication Ethics: Does it Make Good Business Sense?
In today’s world of business scandals it has been contended that ethics and business do not go together. This has been seen from the scandal that rocked Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. The company was very successful and one could easily argue that it was the dishonest phone hacking that catapulted them to the great heights. Following this argument it can therefore be argued that honesty in business communication is an antiquated concept and does not go hand in hand with success in business (Brown 2005). The News of the World scandal might also be used to show that dishonest communication in business will eventually lead to the demise of any company despite its history or magnitude. To this extent it can be concluded that business does go hand in hand with ethics. There are other major scandals such as the Enron saga that have also showcased the importance of ethics in business communication (Baird & Rasmussen, 2002).
Many businesses have thrived while communicating ethically. Many of the trusted brands have emerged successful based on the fact that the customers rely that the information given by the firm is honest. Honesty in business goes a long way as has been shown by the companies that have maintained their standards in giving quality products or services. With the recent scandals in the business world, more and more companies are realising that indeed honesty is the best policy.
A business may flourish for a while based on dishonest communication but when the truth is unravelled, it usually has far reaching consequences. There are some examples that have shown that a business cannot afford not to communicate ethically. This was shown through the Ponzi scheme of the 1920s. In this scheme Charles Ponzi; who was an Italian immigrant living in the US; initiated the first known pyramid scheme where investors were paid using other investors’ money. The Bernard Maddoff L. Investment Securities LLC was also another example that showed that it does not make business sense to engage in unethical business communication. This company was formed in Wall Street United States in 1960 by Bernard ‘Bernie’ Maddoff. The company formed an investment management firm called Ascot Partners which invested investors’ money and the returns from the investments were supposed to be given back to the investors. The company did not however invest the money from investors. Ascot Partners filed fictitious returns with the Securities Exchange Commission and there were also regular high returns to show the company was legit. The actual fact of the matter was that the money brought in by new investors was used to pay old investors in this way it operated much like the Ponzi scheme. During the world economic meltdown in 2007 investors in the company sought to redeem their investments and that was when the scandal was discovered. Bernie Maddoff’s assets were all forfeited after he confessed and he was sentenced to 150 years imprisonment. At the end of the scandal it was estimated that over 50 billion dollars were lost in the scheme. From these examples it is clear that business communication needs to be ethical for both legal and moral reasons. This is because thousands of investors in the above schemes had invested life savings and others had even sold all their property and mortgaged their houses. This meant that after the discovery of the fraud some investors were rendered homeless or bankrupt. These kinds of sudden financial problems can be traumatising to a person and they could even lead to suicides or acute depression. This means that ethical business communication is the moral thing to do in any circumstance.
Business communication honesty is very important and valuable to any business be it big or small. Businesses also need to be honest about communication on corporate social responsibility. Dishonest business communication is not only immoral but also illegal. It has been seen as the easy way to manoeuvre the competitive corporate world but it has dire consequences. Many businesses today are making an effort to develop and maintain an ethical culture. With recent technology and closer public scrutiny of companies, it has become much harder to give wrong information. Preston (2009) stipulates that business communication ethics makes good sense and has become an integral and valuable part of any successful business.