Most people think of integrity as a moral virtue. People with integrity act with honor and transparency; those without integrity are dishonest, right? While it’s certainly logical to think of integrity as a moral virtue, it’s a limited perspective.
When integrity is defined as a moral virtue that a person can possess (or not), it becomes an unalterable identity. A person with a disingenuous past can never become a person of integrity because of that past.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, integrity is also defined as “the state of being whole and undivided.” This definition seems to apply only to inanimate objects and concepts. However, when applied to human relationships, using this definition creates a world of possibility.
By defining integrity as a state, integrity becomes something everyone can move in and out of at any time by aligning their thoughts, words, and actions. With this definition, integrity becomes available to everyone, regardless of their past.
When integrity becomes a way of being, it becomes a tool to strengthen our relationships rather than a label to pass judgment and condemnation. For example, when integrity is a moral virtue, there’s no reason to engage someone with no integrity. You can’t change other people. They’re dishonest, what can you do?
When integrity is a state of being, you can help someone come back into integrity, and in doing so, you’ll repair and even strengthen your relationship.
With this expanded definition of integrity in mind, these strategies will help you practice the art of integrity:
Manage your promises to avoid over-promising
Broken promises are a significant source of disappointment in relationships. The best way to avoid broken promises is to make them sparingly. If you find yourself canceling often, it’s a sign that you’re over-promising.
When we decide we’re going to mow the lawn today but end up going out with friends, we’ve broken a promise with ourselves. We know the lawn can wait, but when we break promises to our friends and family, there are far-reaching consequences, even for the little things.
Breaking small promises doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it tells other people you’re unreliable. Small broken promises add up quickly in the eyes of others.
Bring integrity to your agreements consciously
An agreement is a promise to do something, even if you don’t use the words “I promise.” When you agree to do something, you’re giving your word. Failing to show up and fulfil on your word puts you out of integrity.
Bring integrity into all of your agreements. That means being as clear as possible from the start to avoid confusion. If you’ve made an agreement you can’t keep, come back into integrity by communicating with the other person to let them know.
Keep track of the specifics of your agreements; don’t rely on your memory. Avoid verbal agreements and get everything on paper. Most arguments arise from differing perspectives about what was agreed to.
If you’re working with clients, use electronic agreements that you can reference easily on your computer. Creating your contracts with an electronic document program like Eversign will make them legally binding contracts.
Use these three steps to come back into integrity after a broken agreement:
- Acknowledge the agreement(s) you can no longer meet.
- Ask the other person to share how the broken agreement has impacted them. If the impact is severe, you might want to reconsider fulfilling on your promise.
- Commit to something new. If you can’t meet the original agreement, be clear about that. It’s okay to rescind an offer or commitment. Just don’t leave people hanging.
Be gentle with others when they’re out of integrity
Nobody likes to be called out directly for being out of integrity, but it needs to be done. If someone in your life is out of integrity with you, handle the situation directly yet gently. Ask the person if they forgot about their agreement, and let them know if they changed their mind, all they need to do is tell you. Request that in the future, they think before making a promise.
Integrity is always moving
We are all moving in and out of a state of wholeness in our relationships with ourselves and others. When we break a promise, we are out of integrity and trust can be temporarily broken. However, we can always move back into integrity through communication to rebuild that trust.