Section 8: Communication in the Workplace

What you’ll learn to do: Discuss the other issues in workplace communication

We also need to consider the ethics of our communication—are we speaking about things in the right way? The right place? To the right people? Additionally, we live in an ever changing world, which enables us to stay connected to people in unprecedented ways. New communication tools and methods are continually being developed and introduced to our professional and personal lives.

Photograph of a person holding a smart phone in their hand. The screen of the smart phone is black.

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss ethics in communication
  • Discuss the importance of staying connected with colleagues and other professionals in the digital age

Ethics in Communication

American business woman and lifestyle expert Martha Stewart is famous for her recipes, her home decorating tips, and her jail time. In late 2001, Stewart avoided losses of about $45,000 when her broker came to her with a tip of “nonpublic” information. That tip motivated Stewart to sell ImClone Systems stock the day before it took a 16% drop in the market.

That tip was an unethical communication. And unsurprisingly, Martha Stewart was tried and sent to prison for using that information to try to save her investment.

Organizations have to manage sensitive information every day, whether it’s an employee’s personal tax information, news about financial results, or information about upcoming layoffs. Leaders are asked to treat such information confidentially, as leaked information can lead to an ethical issue, either within the company (internally) or for their customers and investors (externally)

Any communication should follow these three ethical standards:

  • Honesty
  • Refrain from doing harm
  • Fairness to all stakeholders (internal and external)


Honesty should be a feature of every communication, whether it is directed downward to employees, upward to management, laterally to other peers and departments, or externally. Facts and figures should be correct to the best of a preparer’s knowledge. Precautions should be taken to protect any sensitive information contained within.

Honesty should also prevail when communicating goals, expectations, decisions, feedback, or judgments to employees.

Refrain from Doing Harm

Whether communicating on a corporate or an individual level, the communication should make every effort to cause no harm. For instance, tobacco companies are required to communicate that the practice of consuming their products may lead to physical conditions like emphysema or lung cancer. A company who is aware of a danger like that and doesn’t communicate it would be breaking this rule of ethical communication.

Fairness to all Stakeholders

When communicating internally or externally, the organization should attempt to be fair to its employees, customers, and community.

If a manager were to exert inappropriate control over employees, stockholders or customers, this would be a violation of this standard. Price fixing, bribery, and insider training are examples of behaviors and communications that are exerting unfairness to stakeholders.


Sadly, there’s no shortage of examples where organizations making unethical decisions and creating unethical communications as a result. Take this very famous example of a corporate communications and activities gone wrong:

Enron made a variety of unethical decisions that led to the demise of the company and the incarceration of several of its C-level executives.

Enron started losing money, and executives chose to hide it rather than admit their investment mistakes – An unethical decision that was followed, no doubt, by dozens of unethical communications, both to their employees, who were directed to disguise losses, and to external stakeholders, who read 10Ks and annual reports that suggested Enron was doing much better than it was. This definitely breaks the honesty and fairness standards. No harm has yet been done, but surely that’s to come.

Media wondered if Enron was overvalued, which put pressure on stock prices, and insiders decided to start “cashing out” – Essentially, these insiders were doing exactly what Martha Stewart had done. The media was only wondering if the stock was overvalued, but, because they were aware of the lies being told, insiders knew it was overvalued. They decided to take their money while they could. Ultimately, the communications that led to these actions were not only lacking in honesty and fairness, but they’re about to do others harm: financial harm.

Enron filed for bankruptcy – Now, 20,000 jobs have been lost, as well as employee pensions, etc. All the actions and communications that led to this moment violated all three of the ethical standards.

Practice Question

It’s every individual’s responsibility to communicate and behave ethically in an organization. And any individual who knows that someone else is not behaving ethically needs to make a choice to either do the socially responsible thing by reporting it, or stay quiet. Unfortunately, many stay quiet, because they feel their careers will be in danger if they speak out. The ethical choice isn’t always the easiest, but usually, it’s the best.

Staying Connected

We live in a technological world, where teams of people can be collaborating and communicating from their respective offices, or even their couches and dining room tables, three thousand miles away from each other. And when you’re working from your couch, without the opportunity to chat at the coffee machine or meet up for lunch, you’re losing the opportunity to connect meaningfully with other people who have the same business interests, who can provide you with a set of amazing resources to help you succeed, and who look for your input and expertise to help them achieve their own goals.

Photo of a man holding a tablet. There is a hologram image of a world map superimposed over the photo.

Staying connected to people is more than just being able to do your job, it’s about staying relevant and impactful and maintaining influence in your sphere—which can be hard to do from your dining room table. But conventional communication tools and approaches have been upended in favor of cutting edge digital alternatives that connect co-workers in these new and challenging circumstances. Let’s look at some of these tools used to stay digitally connected with coworkers and other colleagues. We’ll measure the methods of communication they aid and how well they facilitate the social communication model.

  • Document and work sharing tools: Sharepoint and OneNote, both Microsoft products, are examples of tools that help you share work documents and collaborate on projects.  Sharepoint allows you the ability to build a webpage for your department, house important and frequently used documents, and post basic, one-sided messages that are usually directly related to the content. OneNote performs a similar function but is more project oriented. The platform allows you to upload pictures and web links, create lists and to dos, and more. Neither of these projects allows for conversation, and they aren’t meant to stand on their own as communication tools. In fact, because they’re offered by Microsoft, usually other programs (like email) are integrated into them.
  • Private messaging and “chat” tools: Private messaging and instant communication tools, like texting, require that the message be written. These tools allow for good, albeit sometimes slow, communication. The linear portion of communication (speaker–encoding–message–decoding–recipient) is easily facilitated in this method of communication, and “feedback” can be given, but “noise” is a frequent saboteur and not always easily identified.  Why? Because non-verbal communication isn’t present, tone of voice is not easily communicated, written messages can be misinterpreted as aggressive, angry and rude when they’re not meant to be. Collaborative tools like Slack include a chat component into their platforms, but offer additional components that make communication more effective.
  • Video communication tools: Skype, Google Hangouts, and  Zoom, are examples of video communication tools that allow you to connect with people visually as well as aurally. Whether it’s by chat room or simply dialing someone else with an account, you can have a decent conversation with coworkers as if they were in the room with you. The benefits are easy to see—not only is there the ability for verbal and listening communication, but nonverbal communication is apparent as well. Where a disembodied voice might agree to a decision, a video conference participant might send the non-verbal signal that she is not happy with the ending result. The visual bonus allows for heightened feedback in the social communication model, and the ability to clarify when noise exists.

You can communicate more effectively when you understand the strengths and pitfalls of these digital communication tools. Tools that facilitate multiple types of communication (verbal, listening, non-verbal) and allow the completion of the social communication model’s circuit are more likely to aid you in getting your message across to your audience.

Practice Question

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  • Introduction to Other Concerns in Workplace Communication. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
  • Ethics in Communication. Authored by: Freedom Learning Group. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
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8.4 Other Concerns in Workplace Communication Copyright © 2019 by Graduate Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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