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Year : 2010  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 97-108 Table of Contents     

An approach to ethical communication from the point of view of management responsibilities. The importance of communication in organisations


Date of Web Publication2-Nov-2010

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In the so-called knowledge society, communication plays a key role in organizations. In traditional societies, the exchange of personal communication was conducted face to face. The development of new technologies has expanded the possibilities of transmitting more information within organizations and faster. Technology has brought greater opportunities for collective communication, as well as greater information management. The impact of these factors has led to some very significant changes in the business world. In these processes of change, within organizations, the role of communication is increasingly playing a critical role.
This article defends the relevance of ethical communication in 21st Century leadership. It is argued that leaders will find in ethical communication the means of gaining credibility and the confidence of their most immediate collaborators, their teams, the organizations they lead and the society in which the company operates. Taking the fundamental structure between internal and external communication as a starting point, the article describes the necessary conditions for leadership to develop ethical communication. It establishes the general and common characteristics of people-centered ethical communication, both as individuals and teams. Furthermore, it identifies the conditions that must generate ethical external communication through which leaders can convey messages to their target audience. For this purpose, the article is structured into the following sections: 1. The importance of communication within organizations. 2. Two levels of communication. 3. What is required of a leader-communicator in order to communicate well? 4. The basic Q&A of communication.

Keywords: leadership, ethics, and ethical communication

How to cite this article:
Moreno CM. An approach to ethical communication from the point of view of management responsibilities. The importance of communication in organisations. Ramon Llull J Appl Ethics 2010;1:97-108

How to cite this URL:
Moreno CM. An approach to ethical communication from the point of view of management responsibilities. The importance of communication in organisations. Ramon Llull J Appl Ethics [serial online] 2010 [cited 2015 Aug 29];1:97-108. Available from:

In the knowledge society, communication within organisations plays a key role. In traditional societies, the exchange of personal communication was mainly based on face-to-face contact. The development of new technologies has made it possible to transmit information within organisations with greater speed and higher volume. Technology has provided greater opportunities for collective communication, as well as better information handling. A good example of this is the constant development of the mass media, giving us almost immediate access to information. The impact of these factors has generated significant changes in the business world. If we look at just a small sample of the literature that has been written on the impact of new technologies on the world of organisations, we soon become aware of the relevance of this matter. In these processes of change that the business world is experiencing, where the only thing that seems permanent is change itself, communication in companies plays an increasingly more decisive role.

Information handling has become an essential work tool, and without a doubt the way of communicating within organisations is essential for them to function. Nevertheless, the potential of technologies created for communication should not make us forget the eminently human aspects of relationships between people. Proof of this is the growth in the number of professionals engaged in the practice of communication, such as consultancies and communication agencies, who help organisations resolve situations in which the key factors of communication are knowing who, what, how, when, to whom, to which effect, through which route and where it takes place (Bel, 2004).

   Two Levels of Communication Top

It is well known that companies basically structure their communication on two levels: internal communication, aimed at the company's so-called internal public (customers) and which is made up of all the messages (the information) shared by the members of the same organisation, and external communication aimed at the company's external public and which should be able to transmit messages based on the culture of the organisation, as well as its corporate image or identity, or in short, the corporate brand (Ulrich & Smallwood, 2007).

These days, many companies still handle internal communication in human resources departments. As highlighted by Piρuel (1997), internal communication is organised around three types of relationships that are the product of the organisation itself: business relationships, established by the activity itself; everyday internal relationships between employees and colleagues; and the relationships established by the company's own culture. In fact, the culture of the organisation is constituted of the shared beliefs and values which act in different ways in each organisation.

Two levels of communication co-exist in turn in both internal and external communication: objective, also called formal and subjective, or informal. In most cases, the forms of communication are determined by the type of organisation and the sector that it operates in. The levels of communication will be different depending on the type of organisation that is analysed. The approach differs according to the company's size, sector and strategy. As explained by Lucas in Piρuel (1997, 166), the classic mechanisms of internal communication are based on three types of communication: formal downward with subordinates, formal horizontal with colleagues and formal upward with superiors. Informal downward communication takes place with followers, informal upward with friends and informal upward with leaders.

One of the main duties of a manager is knowing how to communicate within your organisation and, in particular, with the members of your team. In most cases, managers communicate information: data on a matter, instructions on a strategy, etc. Nevertheless, within this communication the transmission of knowledge or accumulated experience is implicit. The first example is objective in nature. Data or information are simply transmitted from one person to another. In the second case, communication is totally subjective: it belongs to the person who is communicating. The manager has knowledge and experience, and transmits it to others. Here we have two different levels of communication. For example, for a manager, objective communication takes shape when he informs his employees and then the company of the Profit and loss account. Subjective communication is happening when he meets a member of his team for lunch to, for example, congratulate her on getting results, or when he meets a customer to build up a business relationship or to simply strengthen it. Organisations are the product of the overlapping of the formal and informal realities that make them up. Furthermore, companies and their employees are in turn part of another system of external social relationships that have an influence on them, such as the social or family environment. In addition, individuals have their own individual needs, separate to those of organisations. Therefore, organisations use a whole host of different levels of communication: external and internal, objective and subjective, social and individual.

   Person to Person Communication Top

Subjective communication is the so-called personal communication, from person to person. This person to person communication in fact includes internal communication and external communication as it establishes a link between the manager and any person related to the company. If we refer to their closest colleagues, this connection is even closer. Why use personal communication? The reason is clear: the manager is a person and he communicates with other people. This is important as a model of a communicative and ethical manager will be presented later. This is a model because everybody, whether they are aware of it or not, is a model of communication behaviour. His way of being and his way of acting communicate to others. His actions say who he is and what he does. In one way or another, we all communicate. Executives are no exception. Thereby they become a model of communication with others. Nonetheless, given the positions that they hold, their communicative responsibility is greater.

   What do We Ask of a Communicative Manager? Top

Firstly, what is definitely the easiest but at the same time the most difficult to put into practice: that he is a person. Some managers believe that behaving like a person at work is at odds with their managerial duties. When it comes down to it, this posture denotes fear of losing control, or power over others?, or, perhaps, reveals certain personal insecurities. Some managers dress it up in another way: "You have to be tough with people, otherwise they will pull a fast one". Or, "I'm not going to be a softie". Nowadays, being a person and being a manager seems to go against the actions of certain individuals. They are erring twice over. One, it is possible to be a demanding manager and be a person. Two, they have not discovered the difference between power and authority, as explained by Pιrez-Lσpez (1998), amongst others.

The current situation means that the manager's work tools have started to change compared to previous years. New technologies are rapidly bringing in changes to all orders: social, political, economic and personal. The world is starting to be another, or already is, due to the impact of globalisation. As stated by Drucker (1999, 9-10):

We live in a period of profound transition and the changes are more radical perhaps than even those that ushered in the Second Industrial Revolution of the middle of the 19th century, or the structural changes triggered by the Great Depression and the Second World War.

The mental and behavioural order is also changing.

Is it possible, therefore, to end up with a way of communicating based on insecurity, fear or high-handedness? Certainly not. Therefore, and as the first priority, we ask that a manager be a person with his team, but also with the other people in the organisation. Humanistic management is being demanded with increasing insistence; in other words this form of management truly takes people into account, and is based on the people in the organisation. Even if only for practical matters or out of mere interest, this should be taken into account as the company's people are the ones who achieve the results. Of course, depending on the size of the company, the levels of communicative precision can lose their intensity the larger it is. In this case, channels like the intranet or the in-house magazine, amongst others, may be suitable ways of reaching a larger number of employees.

Due to the global situation, today more than ever before we need to communicate in another way. We should do this through the correct use of the resources that we have at our disposal, or in other words, with transparency, sincerity and honesty. We need to know how to read the situation between the lines; we have to communicate intelligently and strategically. Gardner (1998, 33) is right when he states that in the traditional concept, intelligence is defined in an operational sense as the ability to answer the questions on an intelligence test. Who has not done an intelligence test or has got someone else to do one? Is this enough? In all certainty, it is not. Gardner does not refer to intelligence, but rather different and, furthermore, multiple intelligences. In fact, he distinguishes seven types, which are: musical, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Of all of these, a manager who wants to manage people should behave using interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences.

The management of people can be understood from the point of view of direction. Managing people involves directing people. A manager has to know how to get the maximum potential from his teams. Along with his team, he has to build emotionally balanced spaces so that people perform better, so that he can demand results, work well done, projects completed, agreements reached...

In the modern world, life both at work and outside of it is full of stress. People today build up a great deal of pressure. If to the habitual stress in the world of companies we add a lot more pressure, people can end up losing a grip at work or away from it. Maintaining our equilibrium these days is complicated by the pressure to get results. One part of the person's life (work, family, social life...) ends up suffering in the face of so much pressure. Organisations that know how to emotionally compensate their employees will achieve better business results as they make up for the strain that pressure places on their professionals. It also has a lot to do with generating intelligent work spaces. Managers have to give support and facilitate their team's work; they have to have sufficient lucidity and intelligence to know how to communicate serenely. For example, from time to time, we have to say thank you without giving way to sentimentality. Ninety percent of the behaviour of a manager cannot be recriminating, controlling… and thanking someone for work well done is always well received.

New technologies have caused the rhythm of work to accelerate even more. The immediacy of everyday life devours managers and their teams. Taking decisions is increasingly fast and the toll taken on people is greater. If a manager wants to be intelligent from an interpersonal point of view, he cannot dodge these realities and must take them into account. He has to be aware that his work also involves seeing the reality of his team, the needs that arise from an environment that is as fascinating as it is dizzying. The work of the modern manager involves taking care of and attending to his team.

Therefore, and secondly, as well as being a person, a manager needs to have multiple intelligences to the highest standards possible. We want managers who are aware of our problems. To communicate we need to know how to listen. And to know how to listen, we first have to let people speak. As said by Heifetz and Laurie (1999, 197), letting everybody speak is the basis of an organisation that is prepared to experiment and learn. Emotional and empathetic managers are needed as they know how to communicate better. Could they be called, emotionally speaking, intelligent? Surely we want mentally and physically agile managers who are in good shape? We need clear minds that are capable of making better decisions. In addition, managers always have to be able to do their sums, know how to communicate, clearly express their organisation's objectives and business strategy. But in order to communicate well, beforehand they need to know how to think and, above all, they first need to know how to stop, give themselves time and block their diaries. Managers have to know where the organisation is and where it is going; they have to be managers with vision. Managers who know how to relate to others, who have the capacity to form fluid relationships with others. All of this requires communication skills. We are referring to people, to managers who communicate and think intelligently.

Thirdly, a manager should be able to reduce the gap between what he says and what he does. A communicative manager has to be honest, coherent, transparent and credible, inspiring trust. These qualities are essential in person to person communication. How can he deserve to be trusted if he is not honest? How can he inspire credibility if he is not coherent in what he says and what he does? These appear to be simple questions; they are easy to ask, but things get complicated when it is time to put them into practice. That is why some employees are so surprised when this actually happens.

The formula is not easy, but being a person, possessing interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence and being coherent is essential for a manager who wants to include ethics and communication in the way he manages people.

   Ethics and Person to Person Communication Top

Communication between people is based on trust. Kets de Vries (1997, 111) upholds that top management should be able to create an atmosphere of trust within the company. He says that without trust, communication is cut short. We trust a person who is a manager as we are sure that what he is telling us, communicating to us, in words or actions is true: there are no tricks or double meanings. Doubt, in these cases, is corrosive. Trust is the first cornerstone to person to person communication. Bennis (2000, 38) claims that trust is based on four pillars: caring, constancy, competence and coherence. But how can we trust people without integrity? Integrity is the most important quality of the communicative and ethical manager. People can relax as they know they are dealing with an honest person. In addition, someone who wants to be ethical is asked to place the smallest possible gap between what he says and what he does. What form can this take? Evidently, it is in his conduct, in his actions, in his way of being, in what he really does. A good manager who wants to be communicative with his people should have at least five basic questions up his sleeve: the basic Q&A of person to person communication.

   The Basic Q&A of Person to Person Communication Top

The basic Q&A refers to the five questions that all managers should bear in mind during person to person communication: what, how, to whom, when, where… are we communicating?

Communicating with integrity

What is being communicated is the content of the communication. For the manager who wants to be communicative and ethical this is the key issue. He has to be very clear in advance about what he wants to communicate. But as the content of the communication always has its origins in the person who is communicating, it becomes very difficult (not to say unlikely) to separate the content from the person who is transmitting it. Here, the "who" is crucial. Who should communicate? The manager who has gained the trust of his workers thanks to his past record and his way of doing things day by day, has, from the start, greater credibility. Credibility based on trust is therefore fundamental when we are talking about communication. If there is trust, we can say that the manager has gained the moral high ground over his team. However, even more crucial is integrity. Why is this? What has this manager done to deserve his team's credibility? In all likelihood, in his daily tasks, through his behaviour and the way he is, on various occasions he will have sent messages and made small gestures, ranging from almost inconsequential acts to ones that have a larger impact, in the way that he exercises his managerial responsibility, this principle of ethical behaviour that consists of reducing the gap between what he says and what he does. Philosophically speaking, this will be the unity of being and doing: the whole person, complete. Or, in another way, if being is sincere, it prevails over doing. Because first the person is, and then he does. Doing is found in being. There is not such a large distance between them, although we put it in place for better understanding. Phrased more simply, what we do shows who we are. Actions are therefore also important as they make us the people that we are.

If the manager has gained the trust of his team through his actions, he has achieved a lot. He has shown himself to be a manager that can be trusted. Integrity, which is a manifestation of harmony between being and doing, is fundamental for ethical communication. Solomon (2000, 38) writes that integrity is not in itself a virtue, but rather a combination of the virtues that act together to form a coherent whole. This is what we call, in the moral sense, character. Evidently, its basic pillars lie in coherence and decency. A manager is said to be honest, first of all, when he has shown this day by day, when he has earned the trust of others. They have seen, through his way of doing things, that he is a decent person with coherent behaviour. There is no trust without integrity. In any event, if there is no trust, what usually happens is a misunderstood complicity or interest, which are both very different matters.

Communicating in a straight line

The advantage of communicating in a straight line is that co-workers get used to it, encouraging communication that works both ways. In turn, many managers appreciate that the members of their team tell them things straight, above all if they have sufficient humility and intelligence to accept suggestions from their subordinates. The straight line is a two-way street.

The how is the second factor to bear in mind. In the content of the communication, messages have to be clear, direct, short. They have to be clear if they are to be understood by the other person. The how has a lot to do with the way we communicate. It is the responsibility of the manager to think very carefully about how to say things, the way in which the information is to be given. If the content is complicated, this way may be crucial in reducing a possible negative impact on the other person. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare a Q&A with basic questions and answers. In addition, the three or four ideas that are to be communicated should be well thought out and noted down. Perhaps it is exaggerating to say that "the medium is the message". But the way of communicating things reveals who is saying them. We suppose that it is possible to fake it. But how long for? Truth is absolutely vital in communication. And it is good that this works in both directions: both for the manager who communicates and for the person who is receiving the communication. In person to person communication, deception cannot be kept up for very long. People can live through deception or be deceived, but for how long? Between two people, there is no shorter path than along the straight line. A manager finds himself in situations that are truly difficult to communicate. If he is a good manager, he will analyse and check everything in detail and find the right conditions for communicating well. If he is not a good manager, he will be indifferent on how to tell somebody something. Quite simply, he will say it as it comes into his head, no more than that, without stopping to think who is sitting in front of him. The how expresses the manager's good or bad ways of doing things. In other words, the way he acts tells us a lot about his ethics.

Communicating to the right person or people

Who do we have to talk to? Who is the right person? The to whom responds to a strategy, planned in advance. In communication, the strategy is fundamental. Communication is increasingly becoming a strategic factor for companies. If communication within a company has traditionally been an important element to take into consideration, these days it is essential. This is why managers need to have communication skills, and to be good communicators. In person to person communication, it is essential that the manager has a capacity for communication, as this is certainly one of the few things that a manager cannot delegate. Obviously a manager can ask his subordinate to communicate something to somebody. That goes without saying. If it is something he wants to get out of or if he does face up to his responsibility, he is acting inappropriately. "You tell him, I don't have time…" or, "I'm off on a business trip". Above all this is a problem if the news is not good. The ethical manager has to take on the responsibility in personal communication. He has to know how to face up to things, both in the form and the content, whoever he has to communicate something to. A good manager has to be able to communicate personally and, when things go belly up, the courage to be able to do it.

Communicating at the right time

Finding the right time is not just necessary, it is essential. In addition, it responds to forethought and advanced planning. It cannot be done in any other way than finding the most favourable moment to transmit the communication, to say what has to be said. Knowing how to choose when is important, above all in times of crisis. Recently, many companies have reduced their workforce due to the economic crisis. In this sense, the communication of crisis, in situations of making job cuts, entails prior planning. Improvisation might aggravate such a delicate situation. An ethical manager who has to communicate such important situations to his team will choose the right moment down to the slightest detail.

Communicating in the right place

The fifth question that a good manager has to ask concerns the place where he can best communicate. Where are we going to pass on the information? In the office? Taking a short stroll? At lunch? Over a coffee? In a press conference at a hotel? The place has a lot to do with the recipient or recipients of our communication. To one extent or another the environment chosen will influence the way that the recipient receives the message that is transmitted. In addition, and especially during crisis situations, the manager and the organisation should plan in detail where to inform their employees of news that negatively affects their continuation with the company.

If the manager takes this basic Q&A into account, person to person communication will be much more effective.

Organisations are as complex as the people who make them up. Therefore, management communication should not resort to improvisation. People deserve communicative managers who can manage their teams whilst transmitting integrity and trust. Ethics and communication go hand in hand as both have a lot to do with the way that we do our work, or in short, in how it is. [13]

   References Top

1.Bel, J. I. (coord.) (2004), Comunicar para crear valor. La Direcciσn de Comunicaciσn en las Organizaciones. EUNSA, Pamplona.   Back to cited text no. 1
2.Benis, W. (1997), Managing People is Like Herding Cats. Executive Excellence Publishing, Provo, Utah.   Back to cited text no. 2
3.Drucker, P. (1999), Management Challenges for the 21 st Century. Harper Business, New York.   Back to cited text no. 3
4.Gardner, H. (1993), Multiple Intelligences. The Theory in Practice. Basic Books, New York.   Back to cited text no. 4
5.Heifetz, R. A. & Laurie, D. L. (1997), "The Work of Leadership", Harvard Business Review, 75(1), pp. 124-134.   Back to cited text no. 5
6.Kets de Vries & Manfred F. R. (1997), La conducta del directivo. Su impacto en el equilibrio de la empresa. Deusto, Bilbao.   Back to cited text no. 6
7.Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2000), "El lνder y la visiσn de futuro", Harvard Deusto Business Review. Bilbao.   Back to cited text no. 7
8.Lucas, A. (1997), La comunicaciσn en la empresa y en las organizaciones. Bosch/Comunicaciσn, 21, Barcelona.   Back to cited text no. 8
9.Pιrez- Lσpez, J. A. (1998), Liderazgo y ιtica en la direcciσn de empresas. La nueva empresa en el s. XXI. Deusto, Bilbao.   Back to cited text no. 9
10.Piρuel, J. L. (1997), Teorνa de la comunicaciσn y gestiσn de las organizaciones.   Back to cited text no. 10
11.Sνntesis, Madrid. Solomon, R. (2000), Nuevas refexiones acerca de las organizaciones de negocios. El ιxito basado en la integridad de las personas. Oxford University Press, Mexico.   Back to cited text no. 11
12.Ulrich, D. & Smallwood, N. (2007), Leadership Brand. Harvard Business School Press.   Back to cited text no. 12
13.Vaan Daalen, W. & Huete, L. (2004), Ilusiσn y Benefcios. Cσmo motivar para crear valor. LID Editorial, Madrid.  Back to cited text no. 13


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