The other night I caught an episode of Law & Order SVU on TV. It was one of the newer episodes where Olivia was faced with some serious ethical dilemmas, one after the other it seemed. In each situation she had the option, and even others telling her, to do what wasn’t ethical, telling her that it won’t matter either way, that the ends justifies the means. And in each situation, she chose to live her ethical values, taking the road less traveled, but ultimately doing what is right. Sure, others were upset with her, but she took a stance that she believed in and didn’t compromise her ethical integrity.
I was reflecting on this and my life, my professional integrity, and how I conduct myself with my team, my company, my clients, my customers. I’ve found that it is quite easy to be strict about my ethical integrity, even if others around me aren’t – mostly because I won’t compromise on this.
One section of my Business Communications course that I teach is about ethics, but it seems like in every class there are at least one or two students who don’t really grasp what ethics is, or how to apply ethical integrity to everyday situations.
According to Google, the definition of ethics is:
- Moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity
- The branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles
Making ethical decisions can help build strong relationships, earn you respect and develop trust, and keep you out of sometimes serious trouble. There are nine basic guidelines that will help guide you through challenging situations to the right thing to do. These are certainly not part of a formal code of conduct, but if adhered to, can help you maintain a high ethical standard.
Nine topics to remember
There are nine main areas I think about when communicating to make sure I’m communicating and acting ethically:
- Abide by the law – understand the laws in your industry and follow them.
- Tell the truth – ethical communicators don’t intentionally lie, fabricate information, or deceive others.
- Label opinions – ethical communicators understand the difference between opinions and facts and they don’t state opinion as a fact without substantiation.
- Give credit – ever heard the saying give credit where credit is due? It’s ethical to give credit to someone who helped you with a project, to document sources, and using quotation marks where appropriate.
- Be objective – ethical communicators don’t misrepresent or exaggerate information because of their own biases.
- Communicate clearly – ethical communicators will write and speak in a manner that the audience of the document or presentation can understand.
- Use inclusive language – the language used should be inclusive of all groups and should never discriminate against others on any basis.
- Take responsibility – ethical communicators will not only take credit for what they’ve accomplished, but also take responsibility for their mistakes.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – the Golden Rule.
Let your ethical integrity speak for you
I’ve had a few times in my career where I’ve had my ethical integrity put to the test. Throughout each of these situations, I have allowed my ethics to shine and prove who I am and what I stand for. For me, it is extremely important to remain loyal to my ethics, especially in the tough situations where the outcome doesn’t seem fair or adequate.
As a manager, I’ve been in situations where I receive information that is not for public consumption (at least not yet) and could impact someone’s job. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been asked to fudge numbers to make one person look better (on paper). I’ve been asked to cover for others, had the opportunity to take credit for other’s work, and to overlook certain actions or discussions. I can honestly say that in each of these situations I held my moral high ground and haven’t given in.
I’ve also been asked to explain my ethical stance to others. In one instance, I had someone come to me to ask about a specific situation they were in and for help not only deciding on what to do, but more importantly, how to handle the feelings and criticism that comes from choosing the ethical road, but still not seeing the desired results. When someone conducts their lives ethically, it doesn’t always bring the desired results, but it should always make the person choosing to remain ethical feel good in knowing they did what was right.
In another situation, I had to defend my ethical stance based on a situation I never thought I’d find myself in. While extremely disheartening, having gone through this has strengthened my resolve to ensure I continue leading ethically.
I will continue to let my ethical integrity show who I am and what I stand for in both my words and actions.
How do you show your ethical integrity?