Technical Communication Ethics – A Guide to Ethical Principles in Technical Communications

Honesty is the ethical principle that technical writers should adhere to and promote. It is the responsibility of the technical writer to give truthful and accurate information. The writer should not omit pertinent information that would change the audience perception of the information they are receiving.In technical writing it is important to not over emphasize or under emphasize facts to persuade a reader or an audience. An example of this is omitting losses in earnings charts. By omitting the information on years where the company did not realize profits, they could persuade investments that would not have been made if the facts were all present for review.. Honesty in technical writing is important to other ethical principles such as, legal and professional ethics. A technical writer has the obligation to research the laws both nationally and internationally and abide by those laws. Furthermore, a technical writer needs to understand moral ethics whether legal or not and communicate the information appropriately.

Confidentiality is one ethical principle that should be a guide in technical communications. To divulge trade secrets, formulas and confidential information about a company and its practices is unethical as long as the company is acting within moral and ethical boundaries and may also present legal issues.

The basic understanding of ethical principles help employees think about dilemmas on the job and make right decisions. Wherever the initiative comes, from you or higher instances, dishonesty is always a lie. When the employee is pressed to hide negative information or mislead by exaggerating or communicating the information in a way the product sounds better than it is, this leads to an unethical behavior.

A technical communicator has the obligation to help his organization treat its customers fairly, by providing safe and effective products or services. Fairness mean avoiding conflicts of interests that fit your own goals which are against the company ones. It is also required to treat people equally regardless of their sex. religion, ethnicity, race, physical or mental ability.

Assertive Communication – 6 Tips For Effective Use

What IS assertive communication?

Assertive communication is the ability to express positive and negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct way. It recognises our rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions without judging or blaming other people. And it allows us to constructively confront and find a mutually satisfying solution where conflict exists.

So why use assertive communication?

All of us use assertive behaviour at times… quite often when we feel vulnerable or unsure of ourselves we may resort to submissive, manipulative or aggressive behaviour.

Yet being trained in assertive communication actually increases the appropriate use of this sort of behaviour. It enables us to swap old behaviour patterns for a more positive approach to life. I’ve found that changing my response to others (be they work colleagues, clients or even my own family) can be exciting and stimulating.

The advantages of assertive communication

There are many advantages of assertive communication, most notably these:

  • It helps us feel good about ourselves and others
  • It leads to the development of mutual respect with others
  • It increases our self-esteem
  • It helps us achieve our goals
  • It minimises hurting and alienating other people
  • It reduces anxiety
  • It protects us from being taken advantage of by others
  • It enables us to make decisions and free choices in life
  • It enables us to express, both verbally and non-verbally, a wide range of feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative

There are, of course, disadvantages…

Disadvantages of assertive communication

Others may not approve of this style of communication, or may not approve of the views you express. Also, having a healthy regard for another person’s rights means that you won’t always get what YOU want. You may also find out that you were wrong about a viewpoint that you held. But most importantly, as mentioned earlier, it involves the risk that others may not understand and therefore not accept this style of communication.

What assertive communication is not…

Assertive communication is definitely NOT a lifestyle! It’s NOT a guarantee that you will get what you want. It’s definitely NOT an acceptable style of communication with everyone, but at least it’s NOT being aggressive.

But it IS about choice

Four behavioural choices

There are, as I see it, four choices you can make about which style of communication you can employ. These types are:

direct aggression: bossy, arrogant, bulldozing, intolerant, opinionated, and overbearing

indirect aggression: sarcastic, deceiving, ambiguous, insinuating, manipulative, and guilt-inducing

submissive: wailing, moaning, helpless, passive, indecisive, and apologetic

assertive: direct, honest, accepting, responsible, and spontaneous

Characteristics of assertive communication

There are six main characteristics of assertive communication. These are:

  • eye contact: demonstrates interest, shows sincerity
  • body posture: congruent body language will improve the significance of the message
  • gestures: appropriate gestures help to add emphasis
  • voice: a level, well modulated tone is more convincing and acceptable, and is not intimidating
  • timing: use your judgement to maximise receptivity and impact
  • content: how, where and when you choose to comment is probably more important than WHAT you say

The importance of “I” statements

Part of being assertive involves the ability to appropriately express your needs and feelings. You can accomplish this by using “I” statements. These indicate ownership, do not attribute blame, focuses on behaviour, identifies the effect of behaviour, is direcdt and honest, and contributes to the growth of your relationship with each other.

Strong “I” statements have three specific elements:

  • Behaviour
  • Feeling
  • Tangible effect (consequence to you)

Example: “I feel frustrated when you are late for meetings. I don’t like having to repeat information.”

Six techniques for assertive communication

There are six assertive techniques – let’s look at each of them in turn.

1. Behaviour Rehearsal: which is literally practising how you want to look and sound. It is a very useful technique when you first want to use “I” statements, as it helps dissipate any emotion associated with an experience and allows you to accurately identify the behaviour you wish to confront.

2. Repeated Assertion (the ‘broken record’): this technique allows you to feel comfortable by ignoring manipulative verbal side traps, argumentative baiting and irrelevant logic while sticking to your point. To most effectively use this technique use calm repetition, and say what you want and stay focused on the issue. You’ll find that there is no need to rehearse this technique, and no need to ‘hype yourself up’ to deal with others.

Example:

“I would like to show you some of our products”

“No thank you, I’m not interested”

“I really have a great range to offer you”

“That may be true, but I’m not interested at the moment”

“Is there someone else here who would be interested?”

“I don’t want any of these products”

“Okay, would you take this brochure and think about it?”

“Yes, I will take a brochure”

“Thank you”

“You’re welcome”

3. Fogging: this technique allows you to receive criticism comfortably, without getting anxious or defensive, and without rewarding manipulative criticism. To do this you need to acknowledge the criticism, agree that there may be some truth to what they say, but remain the judge of your choice of action. An example of this could be, “I agree that there are probably times when I don’t give you answers to your questions.

4. Negative enquiry: this technique seeks out criticism about yourself in close relationships by prompting the expression of honest, negative feelings to improve communication. To use if effectively you need to listen for critical comments, clarify your understanding of those criticisms, use the information if it will be helpful or ignore the information if it is manipulative. An example of this technique would be, “So you think/believe that I am not interested?”

5. Negative assertion: this technique lets you look more comfortably at negatives in your own behaviour or personality without feeling defensive or anxious, this also reduces your critics’ hostility. You should accept your errors or faults, but not apologise. Instead, tentatively and sympathetically agree with hostile criticism of your negative qualities. An example would be, “Yes, you’re right. I don’t always listen closely to what you have to say.”

6. Workable compromise: when you feel that your self-respect is not in question, consider a workable compromise with the other person. You can always bargain for your material goals unless the compromise affects your personal feelings of self-respect. However, if the end goal involves a matter of your self-worth and self-respect, THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE. An example of this technique would be, “I understand that you have a need to talk and I need to finish what I’m doing. So what about meeting in half an hour?”

Conclusion

Assertiveness is a useful communication tool. It’s application is contextual and it’s not appropriate to be assertive in all situations. Remember, your sudden use of assertiveness may be perceived as an act of aggression by others.

There’s also no guarantee of success, even when you use assertive communication styles appropriately.

“Nothing on earth can stop the individual with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal; nothing on earth can help the individual with the wrong mental attitude” W.W. Ziege

Internal Communication: 12 Essential Elements

There are 12 essential elements of a successful internal communications strategy:

1. Effective employee-directed communications must be led from the top

Effective communications require the active commitment and endorsement of senior managers. It is not enough simply to develop a ‘vision statement’ or formulate in general terms the values by which the company lives. Behaviour is what counts. Managers must be seen to behave in a manner that is consistent with the ethos they are promoting.

2. The essence of good communications is consistency

At all costs, avoid following fashion and tinkering. If you try to improve communications and then fail–because your messages are inconsistent or are ‘good news only’–things will not quietly settle back into the way they used to be. You will inevitably have created expectations, and may have to live with the consequences of having disappointed those expectations.

3. Successful employee communications owe as much to consistency, careful planning and attention to detail as they do to charisma or natural gifts

We might not all be another Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins or Bill Clinton. But even such communication ‘giants’ slip up if they fail to plan, fail to pay attention to detail and fail to project a consistent message.

4. Communication via the line manager is most effective

‘ Line Manager to employee’ communication is an opportunity for people to ask questions and check that they have understood the issues correctly. However, be aware that business urgency and reality may dictate the need, on many occasions, to inform employees directly rather than relying entirely on the cascade process. (Though managers will still need to answer people’s questions and listen to their views.)

5. Employee communications are not optional extras, they are part of business as usual and should be planned and budgeted for as such

An employee communications plan–key themes, targets, objectives and resources–provides a context in which to deliver initiatives that arise at short notice.

6. There must be integration between internal and external communications

There must be a fit between what you are telling your people and what you are telling your customers, shareholders and public. (By the same token, there must be a fit between what you are telling your people, and what the external media are telling them.)

7. Timing is critical

However clearly expressed and well-presented your message may be, if it arrives at the wrong time you might as well not have bothered. Old news is often worse than no news. Consequently, it is important to ensure that the channels you use can really deliver at the time you need them to.

8. Tone is important

Expressing overly-gushing enthusiasm about a technical change of little real significance to your staff or public at large is scarcely calculated to make people take your message to heart. If they don’t take that message to heart, why would they take the rest of what you say to their bosoms?

9. Never lose sight of the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor

We are self-interested creatures. I may have invented the most amazing gadget ever, but unless I get you emotionally involved you are never likely to listen to my message about it. But if I can show you how my gadget will revolutionise your life, add dollars to your wallet, free up your time, fix your smelly feet, wash your car for you, stop your kids arguing with you, bring peace with your spouse, bring world peace…

10. Communication is a two-way process

Employee communications are NOT a one-way information dump. Capturing feedback is of critical importance, and if you are not seen to be listening and acting on what you are told, why should people bother telling you?

11. A single key theme or a couple of key themes is a means of giving coherence to a range of diverse employee communications initiatives

In recent years, the overriding theme of many corporate employee communications has been the impact on the business of competition, regulation and economic forces. Many messages and initiatives can therefore be evaluated according to the light they shed on one or more of these key themes.

12. Set your standards and stick to them

Determine which channels should be mandatory and which should be optional; establish quality standards for all channels and review these at least annually.