ask me during my etiquette workshops whether 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.
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.
simpler terms, to think ethically 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.
do the right thing begins with thinking rightly,” say
authors Robert Solomon and Kristine Hanson in their book,
It’s Good Business (1985, Antheneum, New York). I
hope these eight principles from their book will help you
use both ethics and etiquette when making decisions
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
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.
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.
society. A business thrives when it
serves its customers, community, and society at-large.
level of business in which you work---and
the larger your company---being involved in your
right thing to do.
your morals. Morals and concerns with
the judgment of the goodness or badness of human
character are the foundation of ethics,
with considering the well-being of others. German
Kant called morals “categorical
are the “unqualified commands” without
exception, even for busy executives on
the brink of a profitable
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
without personal benefit.
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.”
other customs, but not at the expense of your
own ethics. The hardest ethical
decisions are not
typically a conflict between
ethics and profits, but one between two ethical systems.
Sure, “when in
Rome...” is a good guideline
in most instances, but when a
custom violates your morals,
it is best to
stick to what you know.
view our past Etiquette Tips of the Month, please choose a topic
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