Original Post: October 16, 2013
There is a smug assumption among business professionals that if they have good etiquette, they will consequently have great ethics. Often when asked to speak on the topic of etiquette, it is assumed that cloaked within the presentation will be subtle references to ethics. Most often, it is not there. They are not the same. Although one can be present without the others, a professional presence not only exhibits both, but understands the line of demarcation between the two.
Business etiquette is a learned but unwritten code of conduct that makes interactions predictable and professional. It originates from protocols, which are the rules that govern a civil society. The rules combine common sense and consideration for others, into codes, for appropriate behavior in the workplace and in society as a whole.
Business ethics are the principles and norms that serve as guides for good and bad conduct in business. The guides may written as codes of conduct, or not written, but implied, as standards derived from society and one’s personal belief system. Ethical codes are important because they help us be good and law abiding citizens.
Being ethical does not make you lawful inasmuch as knowing etiquette does not make you mannerable. Stephen J.A.Ward, in writing about ethics in an article entitled “Nature of Journalism Ethics” states “Ethical questions are not reducible to questions of etiquette (what is commonly done), prudence (what is in the journalist self-interest), financial gain (what enhance profit) or law.”
Ethics governs how we practice professionalism, i.e., does it violate laws or individual rights. Etiquette governs how professionalism relates to others, i.e. manners and decorum.