Ethics and Etiquette: Thinking rightly!

I’m asked I sometimes get asked Ethicswhether I conduct seminars on ethics, thinking it is much the same thing. While these are related concepts, there is a distinction between ethics and etiquette, especially as they relate to decision making in business and in society.

As defined in The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language, Third edition:

Ethic (n) 1.a. A set of principles of right conduct. b. A theory or a system of moral values. 2. ethics. The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession.

Etiquette (n). The practices and forms prescribed by social convention or by authority. The codes governing correct behavior. Forms of conduct as prescribed in polite society.

In simpler terms, to think being ethical means to direct your thoughts toward compliance with the rules, the contributions you can make, and the harmful consequences to avoid. To use proper etiquette means you are familiar with the current acceptable social codes of behavior in a particular country, culture, and society. In business—as in life—your decisions should take into account the thought processes surrounding both ethics and etiquette.

“To do the right thing begins with thinking rightly,” say authors Robert Solomon and Kristine Hanson in their book, It’s Good Business (1985, Athenaeum, New York). I hope these eight principles from their book will help you use both ethics and etiquette when making all decisions:

  1. Consider the well-being of others, including non-participants. Although it is good to follow both the Golden Rule and new Platinum Rule*, it is equally important not to sacrifice your own beliefs. Always contribute to the general good and avoid consequences that will hurt others. [Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would like to be treated.”]
  2. Act as a member of the business community. Standards, rules of propriety, and fairness enable businesses to prosper. Practices such as respecting contracts, employees, and others; paying debts and other obligations; and selling legitimate products at a just and fair price are the fundamental principles of an ethical business.
  3. Obey, but do not depend solely on, the law. Ethical thinking goes beyond being a lawful person. Actions that are not illegal, such as taking advantage of someone’s trust, are still unethical.
  4. Serve society. A business thrives when it serves its customers, community, and society at-large. Whatever level of business in which you work—and the larger your company—being involved in your community is the right thing to do.
  5. Follow your morals. Morals and concerns with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character are the foundation of ethics, along with considering the well-being of others. German philosopher Immanuel Kant called morals “categorical imperatives.” They are the “unqualified commands” without exception, even for busy executives on the brink of a profitable deal.
  6. Think objectively. To determine whether an action is truly right, and not just a rationalization of self-interest, it is essential to think from a neutral perspective and without personal benefit.
  7. Have character. Before you sign contracts and cut deals, ask, “What sort of person would do such a thing?” Ethics is derived from the Greek word ethos, meaning “character.” Ethics is not so much obedience to rules as it is the upkeep of your personal and company character, specifically your “good name.” Peter Drucker summarizes business ethics as “being able to look at your face in the mirror in the morning.”
  8. Respect other customs, but not at the expense of your own ethics. The hardest ethical decisions are not generally a conflict between ethics and profits; it’s often one between two ethical systems. Sure, “when in Rome…” is a good guideline in most situations, however when a custom violates your morals, it is best to stick to what you know is best.

Happy Practicing!


1 Response to "Ethics and Etiquette: Thinking rightly!"

  • Marino says: