Ethical Decision Making Models
Sometimes, people consider understanding the obligations of public relations professionals as a science. The ability to apply ethical reasoning into a tapestry of various situations, however, is truly an art. In an attempt to address this, many scholars have proposed ethical decision-making processes, based on ethical frameworks previously addressed. The following are three popular models that are designed specifically for professionals to understand how to apply their ethical commitment in action. The following is a brief introduction to these decision-making models:
- Bowen's Model for Strategic Decision Making: This model for ethical decision-making is specifically designed to help with issues management. In other words, it helps professionals make correct decisions in a management process in order to avoid ethical problems and crises. In this model, Bowen suggests first ensuring that the professional is autonomous in the decision making process. In other words, it is important in this model that the public relations professional is free of outside influences that may change what choices they would make. Then the model guides the professional into making a decision based on considerations for the key duties to the client and publics. In making the decision, professionals are encouraged to consider whether others in similar situations could be obligated to perform the same way, whether they would still make the same decision if they were on the receiving end of the choice, and whether similar situations like this have been faced before. After making the decision, there is also guidance on how to communicate the choice. Questions that a professional should consider include “am I doing the right thing?” and “am I proceeding with a morally good will?”
- TARES Ethical Persuasion: Often, public relations professionals are communicating messages designed to influence values, opinions, beliefs and behaviors. When using persuasive communication, there are certain ethical obligations that the communicator holds. The TARES model is a guide for this kind of communication. TARES, suggests using the following acronym as a guide: “Truthfulness (of the message) Authenticity (of the persuader), Respect (for the persuadee), Equity (of the persuasive appeal) and Social Responsibility (for the common good).” In other words, the public relations professional needs to make sure their communication aligns with each of these five areas prior to using it.
- Potter’s Box for Decision Making: This is perhaps one of the most simple but often employed models for making ethical decisions. This model was developed by social ethics professor, Ralph Potter and is often used in a variety of professions. This process guides individuals through a four step process involving 1) examining the issue at play in the situation; 2) identifying values that should be employed, 3) recognizing guiding principles and 4) ascertaining loyalties that should be employed. This model is one that rests on professionals understanding principles, values and loyalties in order to be able to navigate the ethical choice correctly.
These three models are certainly not exhaustive. In fact, there are many more and they are valuable to learn in order to apply in various situations. The main thing to understand is that these models have specifically been developed in order to guide professionals who face a plethora of situations. Rather than expecting professionals to make decisions that are ethical on a case-by-case basis, the models provide a universal guide to understanding the ethical obligations held by this profession.
But are codes of conduct (discussed in lesson one) and ethical decision-making models enough to create ethical professionals?Next Page: The State of Ethics in Public Relations