Traditionally men (or women) were measured by their word—if you gave your word, then it was as good as a contract.  In fact, it was a verbal contract. They had the ethical integrity to be bound by their word.

When someone failed to keep their word or break promises, his or her reputation was damaged. Also, a lack of trustworthiness meant that people didn’t do business with them.

Prominent People Lacking Ethical Integrity?

In recent weeks, there have been news stories of prominent people not keeping their word. Some of these people have given justifications for breaking trust. The justifications have spanned citing specific bad behavior of others, meaning they broke the agreement/trust first to the promises not really being promises because of the nature of the commitment. In other terms, the person breaking their commitment found external justification for not living up to their promises.

We have witnessed over time how politicians make “political promises” or “campaign promises” and when challenged said “Those promises don’t count! No one expects you to keep campaign promises.” How sad for our times that leaders and would-be leaders aren’t bound by their own words and consciences.

Valid Justifications or Lame Excuses

Is there a justification for breaking your word? I’m not talking about having to reschedule an appointment. I’ll also exclude the discovery that the commitment was made under false pretenses or fraud or some other illegal or immoral aspect of a deal is subsequently uncovered.

What I want to talk about is breaking your word because your own circumstances change. You promise to make a payment on your outstanding balance to a vendor–contractually and verbally. You don’t make the payment because some other expenses that take precedence happen. Is that okay? What if you:

  •  promise to support someone’s favorite charity and make a pledge, and then you don’t send the funds?
  • promise a colleague that you will support them during a board vote, and then you secretly vote against them?
  • really have a conflict between your word and your conscience?
  • gain new insights and knowledge and change your perspective on the subject matter of your promise?

Is it okay to break your promise?

Daily Choices to Live Up to Our Words

Daily we encounter decision points and new opportunities. At those junctures, we have to decide “what is the right thing to do.” It isn’t always clear cut. It also isn’t always comfortable. It is something we should have the courage to face head on. Change your position on a vote? Tell the other party. Decide that you don’t have the financial resources available to do the deal you committed to? Notify the other party.

Too often we feel the need to say “yes” when we really want to say “no.  So, something else we have to begin doing again is saying “no.” Too many times our word is given because we simply aren’t comfortable saying “no.” We can also struggle to share what we perceive to be minority-held views or differing perspectives when it seems that everyone else is of a different opinion.

The True Meaning of Ethical Integrity

Integrity is about keeping our word. It is also about not giving our word when we are keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t have to follow through.

When it comes to real world impact, ethical integrity means living our values, day in and day out. It means that valuing our word enough not to give it lightly. It also means keeping our word even when it might be inconvenient or mean we miss out on a better opportunity. Our moral compasses can fail when self-interest calls. We can find many ways to justify not keeping our word. Integrity should not be variable. It should be the foundation of our personal and business relationships.

This week I was back on-site with a client that I hadn’t worked with in a long time. In the course of the meeting, the CEO said: “Lea, we’re like you; we keep our word.” I’ve had other people say I am “honest to a fault.” Can honesty be a fault? That client meant that I would do the right thing in the face of self-interest.

What do you want your clients and colleagues to say about you? Is your word your bond? Can I always count on you to come through? What do you want your ethical integrity brand to be? Think about it every time you are asked to give your word, to make a commitment, to make a choice.

Copyright ©2016 Lea A. Strickland, F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc.

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