One of the many challenges of implementing ethical decisions consistently is the ambiguity surrounding which actions are ethical. Some solutions appear more ethical than the others when variables are complex and the pressure is on to make a decision. But decisions no longer seem obvious when a person is forced to weigh one set of morals against another.
Think about different applications of persuasion—political campaigns, advertising campaigns, public relations campaigns, or the sales of goods and services. Each application has a different set of legal and moral standards by which they abide. Not only must persuaders be concerned with what their messages are but also how those messages might be perceived by their audience and any implications of those perceptions.
That audience includes customers, competitors, coworkers, employees, and employers. Any communicator representing a company, person, or product has the responsibility to behave ethically and be held accountable for his or her actions. Clearly, it is very important that companies address ethical standards and provide training and discussion of acceptable behavior, highlighting potential or likely dilemmas employees may face (internally and externally), and providing safe channels to communicate concerns or report unethical behavior. Just like any other business skill, improving ethical judgments requires education, practice, repetition, and reinforcement.
To provide a general framework to reference across industries and types of ethical dilemmas, Charles Larson (1992) poses the following nine questions to help improve ethical judgments as they relate to persuasive contexts:
- Can I specify exactly what ethical criteria, standards, or perspectives are being applied by me or others?
- Can I justify the reasonableness and relevancy of these standards for this particular case?
- Can I indicate clearly in what respects the communication being evaluated succeeds or fails in measuring up to the standards? What judgment is justified in this case about the degree of ethicality?
- In this case, to whom is ethical responsibility owed—to which individuals, groups, organizations, or professions? What is the communicator’s responsibility to himself or herself and to society at large?
- How do I feel about myself after this ethical choice?
- Can the ethicality of this communication be justified as a coherent reflection of the communicator’s personal character?
- If called upon in public to justify the ethics of my communication, how adequately could I do so? What generally accepted reasons or rationale could I appropriately offer?
- Are there precedents or similar previous cases to which I can turn for ethical guidance?
- How thoroughly have alternatives been explored before settling on this particular choice?
The questions offered by Larson force one to consider the effects and implications of one’s decisions and how those decisions will be defended to different groups. Repeatedly going through a sequence of questions like these, especially in tricky situations, can assist a person in creating an innate set of ethical guidelines that will lead him or her in decision making. Larson’s questions can be used to evaluate personal behaviors and actions as well as the actions and behaviors of others.
When everyone is consciously involved and committed to practicing ethical choices in an organization, the group itself begins to detect areas that need improvement or further examination. Employees enjoy being and feeling a part of something that is morally and ethically right, especially when the various scandalous business practices of the recent past are considered. If a company can create this type of ethical environment internally, then employees will likely defend and protect their environment.
Larson, C. (1992). Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.[DISPLAY_ACURAX_ICONS]