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Business Ethics

Workplace Relationships and Ethics

Organizations of all sizes and types are only as ethically “sound” as the people that they employ and how fairly they think they are being treated (and the extent to which relationships within the employing enterprise are open, fair and honest). Policy and procedure therefore needs to be developed around the communication climate, the extent to which all individuals and groups feel included in decision-making and how conflict is to be handled (obviously in just and consistent ways) whenever it arises. It is perhaps the last of these that needs most care and attention when it comes to establishing sound ethical relationships at all levels.

Although it is to overly simplify the reality, when it comes to handling internal conflict, you could say that organizations fall into two broad categories:

  1. Those who see conflict as intrinsically healthy and try to manage it as carefully as possible in order to ensure that the best (not the worst) is derived from it.
  2. Those who see conflict as almost wholly negative and potentially highly damaging, and therefore either ignore it (in the hope that it will not escalate too much) or try to calm or suppress it (with often varying degrees of success).

Managing conflict in the workplace

Unfortunately, research suggests that the majority of organizations fall more naturally into the latter category than the former, and this creates a number of ethical relationship challenges. Primary amongst these is that workplace conflict can get quickly out of control, with individuals and whole teams (at times) engaging in “power plays” for their own reasons and not for the benefit of the enterprise. Even worse than this, conflict can sometimes extend to openly combative behavior between people and groups, often leading to very harmful practices such as direct discrimination, bullying and harassment, thereby creating both potential legal problems and possibly a culture of fear and trepidation in some quarters. Great care has to therefore taken by organizational leaders to avoid this situation.

The featured video clip is a short excerpt from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder eLearning program, Corporate Ethics: An RSB eLearning Course.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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One Comment

  1. Jessica WhiteApril 14, 2016 at 1:41 am

    The second type of organization you mention, which attempts to ignore or suppress conflict, is unhealthy on many levels. First, conflict has the ability to produce growth – growth that this type of organization will not experience. Second, proper handling of conflict promotes trust within work relationships which, in turn, benefits an organization.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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