This chapter introduces the long-overlooked notion of accountability, and serves as a reference point for ethical considerations throughout the text and the course. Students need to understand that their communications choices have definite ethical consequences, and that standards of usefulness and persuasiveness have as corollaries standards of honesty and fairness. Chapter 4 further expands our definition of the communication problem faced by workplace writers: 1. “How do I give readers the information they need?” (The Information Problem) 2. “How can I get the response I want?” (The Persuasion Problem) 3. “How can I do the right thing?” (The Ethics Problem) The focus here is on ethical dilemmas in the workplace and on the causes and effects of deliberate miscommunication. Here is a dilemma we face as writing teachers who could presume to teach ethics at all: Should we advance the organizational perspective (which tends to stress professional competence and the organization’s welfare) or the academic perspective (which tends to stress social good)? One researcher points out that the first perspective engenders ethical equivocation, while the second imposes rarefied standards that are seen as unrealistic in the world of work. [See Gregory Clark’s lucid and insightful article, “Ethics in Communication: A Rhetorical Perspective,” IEEE Transactions in Professional Communication 30.3 (September 1987): 190–196.] This chapter aims at a balance (albeit tenuous) between equivocal and polemical viewpoints by taking a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, approach to the ethics problem: namely, by examining the issues and inviting readers to draw their own conclusions.
Answers 1. Behaving in a manner that is accurate, honest, and fair. 2. Yielding to social pressure and blindly following the group. 3. Any of the following: Suppressing knowledge the public needs, hiding conflicts of interest, exaggerating claims about technology, falsifying or fabricating data, using visual images that conceal the truth, stealing or divulging proprietary information, misusing electronic information, withholding information people need for their jobs, exploiting cultural differences. 4. Use your critical thinking skills. 5. They are standards that most people consider acceptable, and they can help you make ethical decisions.
Answers (continued) 6. Obligation to yourself, obligation to clients and customers, obligation to your company, obligation to coworkers, obligation to the community, and obligation to society. 7. Legal guidelines often do not go far enough to measure unethical behavior. 8. Representing the words, ideas, or perspectives of others as your own. 9. Intentional and unintentional. 10. Whistle-blowing is reporting someone else’s ethical abuses.