The Ethics of Speaking Up: Examining The Management Consultant’s Role in Creating Controversial Organizational Change
Critical communication scholars have addressed the problem of power imbalance in organizations by advocating for more pluralistic relationships between managers and employees. In carrying out this agenda, scholars have often adopted the perspectives of Jürgen Habermas, who argued that the cycle of disenfranchisement can only be undone when low-status individuals are able to influence the rhetorical process through which power is produced. This influence comes from creating, or at least approximating an ideal speech situation (hereafter referred to as ISS), which is a discursive context that provides full and equal access to information in an unconstrained transparent format. Although ISS in its pure form is not possible, approximating this context can further the goal of creating democracy in the workplace. The problem is that when management consultants attempt to perform ISS-based interventions in organizations, low-status employees risk considerable career-related or personal consequences. This situation presents many ethical dilemmas for management consultants. This moral tension is rarely discussed in the literature. The purpose of this paper therefore is to begin a conversation about ethics and ISS by describing the practical areas of conflict that practitioners face. The paper also includes a proposed ethical framework for approximating ISS.
Keywords - Management Consulting, Ethics, Ideal Speech Context