Codes of conduct for open-minded discussion and resolution of ethical issues in China

Dean William TJOSVOLD, Robin Stanley SNELL, Fang, Sofia SU

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Developing a consensus on ethical rules has been regarded critical to developing an ethical organization. This study proposes that explicit ethical rules are valuable as a foundation for employees to discuss possible ethical violations open-mindedly, and in a manner that they consider fair to one another and conducive to interpersonal relationships and further discussion. In critical incident interviews, 101 Chinese mainland employees described a specific occasion where their ethical values were at issue. Case examples and structural equation analyses indicated that the presence of clearly formulated ethical rules facilitated the open-minded discussion of opposing views, also called constructive controversy, regarding actual ethical issues, that in turn developed interactive justice, strengthened interpersonal relationships, and promoted confidence in future discussions within the organization about ethical issues. These results were interpreted as suggesting that codes of ethics and constructive controversy helped employees to identify common boundaries and to avoid personal antagonism. However, explicit codes and engagement in constructive controversy had no impact on the furtherance of employees' own ethical values, a result that was interpreted as indicating that ethical codes may fail to empower employees to develop and apply their own ethical values if they are imposed top-down.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-20
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of International Business Ethics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2009


  • China
  • conflict
  • constructive controversy
  • ethical rules


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