Business ethics for a less-than-ethical world

Make sure your better angel of your nature wins out in your business dealings.

Make sure the better angel of your nature wins out in your business dealings.

By Michelle van Schouwen

How many months or minutes has it been since you’ve been outraged by a business practice you’ve seen in the news or experienced in person?

If you have recently been alarmed, annoyed or upset by an incidence of price gouging, cheating on regulations, purchase of political favors, or other questionable business practices, you haven’t become numb yet. Congratulations.

Having been in business for three decades, and having witnessed both honor and decency and its inverse, I argue that being ethical beats the alternative. On the practical side, research indicates that good business ethics lead to better customer relationships, a stronger reputation and higher profit margins. Maintaining good ethics is also better for your conscience.

It helps to have guidelines, because it’s all too easy to get lost in the weeds of the daily struggle.

-Determine the mission and standards of your business. Decide in advance of crises what behaviors and methods are acceptable to you. How do you handle a cash crunch? How do you deal with problem employees? Difficult customers? Have standards to which you can stick in good times and bad.

-Ask yourself, in any interaction, the questions in this Arab proverb: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”

-When dealing with unpleasant people, I’ve found the following technique helpful in making appropriate, ethical decisions about responses and action. I guess this is my own business proverb. “Listen to the message. Ignore the tone.”

-If ever you are asked to compromise your ethics for a customer or anyone else, remember that the bad taste of doing wrong lasts longer than the pleasure of winning a deal, making more money or evading responsibility.

And one more thing. I realize that these standards mean nothing to some people. If you have read this far, you are probably not one of them. Remember that the cheaters, corner-cutters and other dishonest types make poor employees, worse employers, bad partners, and terrible customers. Avoid them when you can, eliminate them from your circles when you must.

That last bit may not sound kind, but it is sometimes necessary.


Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. The company is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, vSAConsult, its executive-level strategic planning capability, and for its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B. vSA has thrived for over three decades, always working to foster innovation, industry best practices and strong values.


  1. Brian Douglas says:

    Very nice….

  2. My slogain is customers’ stisfaction is our key goal. Therefore, we always care about health and advantages of them. Business ethics are necessary because we all can be happy if we live honestly.

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