Ethical dilemmas

Turning a sighted eye

All too often, people like to turn a blind eye when ethical dilemmas arise. For communications departments, which seem to be “jacks of all trades” when it comes to organizational management, it is especially important that employees are aware of potential ethical issues and are prepared to approach them without turning the other cheek.

Am I involved in an ethical dilemma?

What constitutes turning a blind eye to an ethical dilemma? For the most part, it is failing to report suspicious inconsistencies, untruths, or violation of the organization’s code of ethics, whether intentional or unintentional, to senior management or appropriate personnel.

Examples of improper practices:

  • Releasing new product information as if the product was finished, when it is incomplete or non-existent
  • Failure of PR practitioner to counsel client to change bad behavior
  • Failure to correct an executive’s incorrect message to the media

Following the Fitzpatrick method

Kathy Fitzpatrick advises completing the following steps when approaching an ethical dilemma:

  • Define the specific ethical issue/conflict
  • Identify external/internal factors
  • Identify key values
  • Identify affected parties and define professional’s obligation to each
  • Select ethical principles to guide decision-making process
  • Make a decision and justify it

Considering the golden rules

PRSA’s best advice when confronting an ethical dilemma is “if you see something, say something.” Look for suspicious activities or inconsistencies, and don’t be afraid to report it if something doesn’t add up. Ask whether the ethical perpetrators knew whether they were doing something wrong, and how they responded. Always go to the individual first to provide counsel, and then report to higher management if the perpetrator doesn’t accept criticism.

NewsU advises a more probing approach. They say, “we should ask lots of questions, and listen hard.” Although we should listen to our gut, we shouldn’t always trust it.

Justify, and don’t freeze

Fitzpatrick’s advice to “make a decision and justify it” is the most important step in the process. If one acts to slowly, the organization may get into a lot of hot water for failing to act. Once professionals reach ethical decisions, they should justify them. Briefly outlining the rationale behind a decision is a good tip to make sure the decision was not a hasty one, and it can be justified later on if the issue comes to light in the public sphere.

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