Integrating Managerial Ethics into the Business Communication Curriculum

By Brown, Paula E.; Mausehund, Jean | Business Communication Quarterly, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Integrating Managerial Ethics into the Business Communication Curriculum


Brown, Paula E., Mausehund, Jean, Business Communication Quarterly


In the wake of the Barings PLC scandal where unauthorized stock gambles by one person brought destruction to a 233-year-old British financial firm, the question of individual ethics of managerial-level employees received more scrutiny. Although few employees have as much power to destroy as did Nicholas Leeson, employees do make decisions every day that affect a company's productivity, profits, and reputation (Flynn, 1995). In the past few years, various researchers and writers have explored the trends in education and training concerning the perceptions of need and methods for including ethics in the curriculum (Brooks, 1990; David, Anderson, & Lawrimore, 1990; Fatt, 1995; McKenna, 1995; Reeves, 1990; Strong & Hoffman, 1990; Thompson, 1990). Because of the relationship between ethics and the means of communicating values in the workplace, the business communication course is a logical place to develop desirable ethical managerial qualities (Brownell & Fitzgerald, 1992; Fatt, 1995). By conducting the course or a specific exercise like a business organization, students will

* develop those managerial skills that business increasingly demands of employees: ethical behavior, leadership, critical thinking, and a global attitude.

* practice writing and speaking for different organizational levels-horizontal or vertical communication.

The following questions will be addressed: (a) What are the advantages of using a business structure in the classroom? (b) What are the purposes of discussing ethics in the classroom? (c) What is an effective design for a classroom business? (d) What methodology can be used to implement the activity? (e) Why is it necessary to assess outcomes? (f) What are results of the exercise?

Restructuring the Classroom as a Business

Traditional business communication classes are designed to impart theories effectively; however, as Reeves (1990) noted,

Theories learned in college are not always sufficient to manage novel situations. Skills in syntheses require practice. In our educational system it would seem that the lack of appropriate practice must surely account for many shortcomings in the development of synthesis abilities ... Bloom believes that educators need to provide students with processes or methods for application and for critical thinking. After learning a process, students can more easily transfer their training to the solution of new problems. (p. 611-612)

Emphasizing ethics continues to receive attention (Brownell & Fitzgerald, 1992; Levin, 1989; McKenna, 1995). The Institute of Management Accountants (formerly known as the American Accounting Association) instituted an ethics counseling service in 1989 to assist members in relating the accounting industry's ethical code to situations encountered in practice (McKenna, 1995). However, a 1990 survey of 333 members of the IMA found that only 175 (53%) respondents said that they had integrated ethics into their courses (Mintz, 1990). Even when students learn principles, they may not spend time applying them in case discussions or simulations. For as Levin (1989) said:

Anyone can be taught to distinguish right from wrong in much the way medical students are taught to distinguish the pancreas from the liver.... Abstract knowledge of right and wrong no more contributes to character than knowledge of physics contributes to bicycling. (p. E34)

Students learn best by example, precept, and application; therefore, in a restructured classroom that reflects real-world activities, students have an opportunity to practice ethical principles.

Brownell and Fitzgerald (1992) developed the Communication Skills Balancing Scale to raise

students' consciousness of their ethical responsibilities and [to encourage] students to examine their own ethical standards and communication practices in three steps: completing an ethics self-assessment, writing an ethical events journal, and developing situation-specific ethical outlines. …

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