The Value of Ethical Conversations: Workplace, Community, and Beyond

I just completed my first 180 days at the Business Ethics Alliance. In some ways, I cannot believe how quickly time has flown by; it seems like I just started. In other ways, it feels so natural- like I have been part of the Alliance for a long time. Along the way, there have been several lessons learned (and several reinforced) about ethical conversations. Since we are in-between our signature events, I am sharing some of these lessons here.

Trust – All conversations involve a relationship of some kind as by definition, communication involves a sender and receiver. Since ethical conversations often revolve around sensitive or controversial subjects, trust among those involved (one on one, or small or large group) in the discussion is essential. Trust begins with communication, and healthy communication requires trust. They are symbiotic; when trust and healthy communication are present, participants in an ethical conversation are more likely to be engaged in the conversation, feel psychologically safe, and be respected as an individual.

Relationships – Healthy communication occurs when people feel comfortable sharing ideas and asking questions, intentions are authentic, and the relationship itself is valued. Relationships where people expect too much too soon, and are not built on mutual trust and respect, are not viable enough to have meaningful ethical conversations.

Diversity – Diversity is not just demographics. Diversity is also sharing diverse ideas and opinions- respectfully of course. It’s ok to disagree, but do it in a manner that is focused on content and subject matter and respectful of the individuals as individuals with their own beliefs. Brett Hoogeven calls this “Friendly Friction”- healthy tension present in difficult conversations between disagreeing about ideas and still respecting the people in the conversation as valued individuals.

Timing – Many of us have heard the adage “Timing is Everything.” It’s true, especially whether a an ethical conversation is about establishing or building a relationship, making an “ask”, or trying to educate, or even advocating for a cause. If the timing is not right for one or more of the people involved in an ethical conversation to engage, the conversation will be one-sided and could even lead to resentment.

Environment – Whether ethical conversations take place at home, in the workplace, or in the community, the physical and psychological environment in which these conversations take place matter. Overly structured conversations, one-sided “lectures,” and strange places create a very different (and likely more difficult) environment for an ethical conversation than settings in which participants have opportunities to share freely (and respectfully), are in familiar settings, and engage with at least a few familiar faces.

Language – Be intentional about the language used. Dr. Beverly Kracher shared this advice with me recently and it is a good reminder that the language we use before, during, and after an ethical conversation matters. Without framing the conversation as one involving values, choices, and benefits (or consequences), the content of a conversation can be seen as generic, judgemental, and/ or inconsequential.
All of the Signature Events at the Business Ethics Alliance open up ethical conversations to a larger audience. At our events, those present represent diverse industries, levels of education and experience, interaction and engagement with the Alliance, and interest in a particular topic.

So far this year we have covered a variety of topics on our theme of New Challenges in Today’s Workplace – Women in Leadership, Board Diversity, and Mental Health in the Workplace.

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Topics still coming are the Ethics of the Hybrid Work Team on June 29th, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Future of Business on August 3rd. The theme of our annual EthicSpace conference is Changing Workplaces: New Opportunities for Today’s Ethical Challenges.

We could not have these types of conversations without earning the trust of participants, and support from our Mission Drivers, Trustee Partners, and the community. I am grateful for the many along the way who have shared their insights about the value of ethical conversations. I have learned from those who have gone before me as well as those whom I find myself teaching, and I rely on those I trust to introduce me to others they trust so we can engage in more ethical conversations.

We promise to always do our best to provide a trusted and safe environment in which to have ethical conversations where all participants are respected as individuals. You matter to us and we hope to see you at one of our events!

Save These Dates:

June 29: Ethics of the Hybrid Work Team
Exploring the Ethics and Values of Hybrid Work

August 03: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Future of Business
Raising Awareness of Business AI Benefits and Challenges

October 05: 5th Annual EthicSpace Conference
Changing Workplaces: New Opportunities for Today’s Ethical Challenges


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