Professional communications with customers in this day and age are done mostly through emails. However, digital writing is significantly different from writing, say, a print or environmental piece. I’ve mentioned this before in a previous post, but I want to go into more detail because I think this is an important way to apply care ethics to digital communications. When analyzing care ethics literature, it is easy to see how care ethics can help humans make moral decisions in close-proximity situations. However, one of the main critiques about care ethics is the question of how to apply this care-based morality to people with whom we don’t personally interact. However, when the values of care ethics are internalized, it is possible to implement them beyond our immediate circles—especially in professional situations.
As I’ve previously mentioned, Joan Tronto’s approach and additions to the care ethics model build out the idea Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings developed in the early 80s. She further defended and explored the concept of care ethics in Feminist theory: a philosophical anthology, analyzing care ethics in a way that addressed many critics’ concerns. She believes that care ethics is not just a feminine trait, but rather a human trait. Both men and women are caregivers in society (whether it is in the home or at work or in a relationship), and so it is important to provide caregivers the tools with which to make moral decisions. She asserts that when people apply the four principles of care ethics, listed below, they allow both men and women to make moral decisions based on care. The following is Tronto’s list of steps for implementing care ethics:
We must be attentive to those around us in order to be aware of their needs and how we can morally assist and/or respond. This is more than what the other person wants, it is what they need on a holistic level.
We must take responsibility for those around us (more specifically, those connected to us) and prioritize their needs over other factors.
We must develop the competence to care for others and their needs. We cannot only acknowledge that they need care, we must have the ability to act and react.
We must measure the responsiveness of the care receiver to the care given. Responsiveness does not equal reciprocity, but rather it is an understanding of what has been expressed by those in the vulnerable position.
When these points are taken from just feminist theory and applied to real-life dilemmas, it provides a clear moral strategy based on any relationship with people around us.
Overall writing standards like helpfulness, respect, and caring help writers approach a customer-facing email in the right mindset and allows them to keep the customers’ needs at the heart of their intentions when writing. Even though a writer cannot physically see and respond face to face to the audience’s needs, a common standard in care ethics theory, they can still take steps to write in a way that is in line with care ethics and moves the needs of the audience (instead of the needs of the author or company) to the forefront. For example, when writing an email about a new product that has just been released, writers should approach the message in a way that focuses on what the audience needs to hear over what the company wants to say. Surveys are also a great way to implement the fourth principle of Tronto’s care ethics theory in a digital space—responsiveness. Surveys allow writers to analyze how their message has been received by the audience and encourages writers to care for their readers by analyzing the data and how readers responded to the content and then making changes where necessary.
A style guide with a foundation in care ethics also influences the standard of communications a company sends out. Style guides can have multiple focuses: a focus that benefits the company or a focus that benefits the customer. Rather than a sole utilitarian approach, where the company says whatever it takes to get the results they need, the foundation of care ethics puts the readers’ needs first—to be care givers of their readers. This almost always gets the same results the company wants, but it achieves it in a way that also encourages brand loyalty and equality. It is always important to treat this rhetorical and persuasive medium with a care ethics approach to ensure that the emails give those closest to the issue the loudest voice in regards to their needs.