A selection of interesting articles we found recently considering the role of ethics in communication.

The effects of euphemism usage in business contexts
Transparency is important in today’s business environment. The use of euphemisms decreases transparency yet is increasing in business and business education. This study examines the effects of euphemism on people’s attitudes toward actions and their intentions to perform those actions. It also measures the effect of oversight on attitudes and behavioural intentions.

Using a 2 × 2 experimental design, Terri Rittenburg et al. measured participants’ attitudes by employing a semantic differential scale and behavioural intentions by using a simple yes/no question regarding the action described. A questionnaire with 20 brief scenarios provided the euphemistic (transparent) versus non-euphemistic (less-transparent) condition. Oversight versus non-oversight conditions were manipulated through instructions to participants.

Hypotheses regarding the effects of euphemism were supported; participants were both more likely to rate an action as appropriate and to indicate they would take that action when stated euphemistically. Oversight did not have a significant effect on attitude toward the action, but did significantly affect participants’ intentions to take that action.

Findings suggest both managerial and ethical implications for businesses. Greater transparency includes more straight talk and less euphemism and is recommended to ensure employees’ understanding and implementation of ethical business actions.

For the full paper, see: Terri L. Rittenburg, George Albert Gladney & Teresa Stephenson. 2016. The effects of euphemism usage in business contexts.
Journal of Business Ethics, 137(2),315-320.


How firms and NGOs talk about supply chain responsibility
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) increasingly hold firms responsible for harm caused in their supply chains. In this paper, Dirk Moosmayer & Susannah Davis explore how firms and NGOs talk about cosmopolitan claims regarding supply chain responsibility (SCR).

They investigate the language used by Apple and a group of Chinese NGOs as well as Adidas and the international NGO Greenpeace about the firms’ environmental responsibilities in their supply chains. The researchers then apply electronic text analytic methods to firm and NGO reports totalling over 155,000 words. Moosmayer and Davis identify different conceptualisations of cosmopolitanism in this discourse: a legalistic approach to cosmopolitanism for Apple and a group of Chinese NGOs and a moralistic approach for Adidas and Greenpeace.

The authors argue that these differences connect to the roles that the firms are expected and perhaps willing to take in SCR: legalistic discourse connects to a governmental function of rule development and enforcement; in contrast, moralistic discourse connects to a citizenship function that focuses on doing good to the global community. They then discuss implications for companies’ non-market strategies and future research.

Find out more at: Dirk C. Moosmayer & Susannah M. Davis. 2016. Staking Cosmopolitan Claims: How Firms and NGOs Talk About Supply Chain Responsibility.
Journal of Business Ethics, 135(3), 403-417.


Integrity: Oaths as forms of business ethics management
The global financial crisis has led to a surprising interest in professional oaths in business. Examples are the MBA Oath (Harvard Business School), the Economist’s Oath (George DeMartino) and the Dutch Banker’s Oath, which senior executives in the financial services industry in the Netherlands have been obliged to swear since 2010.

This paper is among the first to consider oaths from the perspective of business ethics. A framework is presented for analysing oaths in terms of their form, their content and the specific contribution they make to business ethics management: oaths may foster professionalism, facilitate moral deliberation and enhance compliance. This framework is used to analyse and evaluate the MBA Oath, the Economist’s Oath and the Banker’s Oath as well as various other similar initiatives.

Find out more at: Boudewijn de Bruin. 2016. Pledging Integrity: Oaths as Forms of Business Ethics Management. 
Journal of Business Ethics, 136(1), 23-42.


Shooting the messenger?
Drawing from a social predicament and identity management framework, James Lavelle, Robert Folger & Jennifer Manegold argue that procedural unfairness on the part of decision makers places messengers in a dilemma where they attempt to protect their professional image or legitimacy by engaging in refusals (e.g., curbing explanations) and exhibiting distancing behaviours (e.g., minimizing contact with victims) when delivering bad news.

Such behaviours however, violate key tenets of fair interpersonal treatment. The results of two experiments supported hypotheses in samples of experienced managers. Specifically, the researchers found that levels of messengers’ distancing and refusals were greater when the procedures used by decision makers were unfair rather than fair. Additionally, messengers’ perceptions of a predicament (honesty versus disclosure) mediated these relationships. Implications and future research directions regarding the ethical delivery of bad news in the workplace are discussed.

See more at: James J. Lavelle, Robert Folger & Jennifer G. Manegold. 2016. Delivering bad news: how procedural unfairness affects messengers’ distancing and refusals.
Journal Of Business Ethics, 136(1), 43-55.


The moral of the story: Re-framing ethical codes of conduct as narrative processes
This paper re-frames business ethical codes (BCEs) as narrative processes by reflecting critically on key ontological assumptions underpinning the existing research, and introducing new and relevant concepts based on alternative assumptions.

The first section draws on recent decision-making research to develop a theoretical account of BCEs as complex, socially embedded sensemaking processes.
The second section addresses the content of codes, and differentiates between narrative and logico-scientific modes of reasoning.
The third section focuses on the quality of code communication and identifies several distinct types of narrative process.

The authors provide research directions for how this new understanding of BCEs may be further developed, as well as implications for practitioners. In response to the call for new conceptual models (O’Fallon and Butterfield, in Journal of Business Ethics 59:375–413, 2005), the paper provides organisational researchers with a more nuanced understanding of how BCEs enable or constrain ethical behaviour in organisations.

More details are at: Matt Statler & David Oliver. 2016. The Moral of the Story: Re-framing Ethical Codes of Conduct as Narrative Processes.
Journal of Business Ethics, 136(1), 89-100.


Facilitating forgiveness in organizational contexts
Despite the numerous benefits associated with forgiveness, many individuals find it difficult to forgive. This is especially true in organisations, where forgiveness is rare and can be under-valued. Across two studies, Barclay and Saldanha explore how to facilitate forgiveness within organisational contexts and in the aftermath of workplace unfairness.

The authors examine whether individuals can reduce the “injustice gap” that can be created by violations and enhance forgiveness through expressive writing interventions—guided writing techniques that can be self-administered. Participants wrote about their reactions to a fictional scenario (Study 1; N = 155) or an actual workplace experience (Study 2; N = 96).

Results indicate that expressive writing was associated with higher reported perceived resolution. Whereas negative emotions mediated this relationship in Study 1, positive emotions and perceived injustice mediated this relationship in Study 2. Perceived resolution also mediated the relationship between expressive writing and forgiveness. Theoretical, methodological, and practical implications are discussed.

See the full paper at: Barclay, L.J. & Saldanha, M.F. Facilitating forgiveness in organizational contexts: exploring the injustice gap, emotions, and expressive writing interventions.
Journal of Business Ethics, 137(4), 699–720.