The words “character,” “morals,” “ethics,” and “integrity,” are often used interchangeably. Each has its own meaning, however. Integrity is acting out your character, which is molded by your values and ethics. It is also the alignment of what you know, what you say and what you do.
Values, Attitudes and Behaviors
Psychologists recognize a common linkage between a person’s values, attitudes and behaviors. Your values contribute to the attitude you develop about a person, place or thing. An attitude is a readiness to act, or subconscious preparation to behave in a certain way. Therefore, your attitude drives your behavior.
Applying this linkage to integrity, your personal values shape your character, and your character compels you to behave in certain ways. A person who believes, “Honesty is always the best policy,” for instance, tells the truth even when doing so causes personal sacrifice or heartache. A person whose character is driven by strong belief in basic etiquette may open doors, or say, “Please,” and “Thank you,” often.
Character is the combination of personality and world view. Therefore, two people can have very different, but equally worthy characters. Logically, then, people can act with integrity in distinct ways. One person may always tell the truth, but another may feel compelled to tell a “little white lie” based on the value of protecting his friend.
The Importance of Alignment
Since integrity means different things to different people, consistency in your actions is what really matters to personal, professional and relationship development. Behavioral consistency results when the things you know, the things you say and the things you do align.
The expression, “Actions speak louder than words,” denotes the superior magnitude of actions in impacting the perception others have of you. If you claim one thing and do another, others place priority on what you do. If you often make promises and fail to follow through on them, it is difficult for others to get close to you. They guard against making plans given your history of bailing.
Some people assume if their words and actions match, they have acted with integrity. This premise leaves out the importance of openness with what you know. A salesperson could give a customer information and follow through on promises, yet not act with integrity if he fails to disclose important information. Full alignment means disclosing things you would want to know in the same position, or that the other person has a right or need to know.
People of high integrity are more predictable. It is easier to coexist with someone who is predictable in their words and actions, even if you have values conflicts, than it is to get close to someone whose moral actions are inconsistent and unpredictable.
Personal integrity impacts the success of your personal and professional relationships. By understanding your values, you develop your character. Your character then compels you to speak and act in certain ways in certain situations. Over time, the consistency of your words and actions causes people to view you as a “person of character” or a “person of integrity.” Act with integrity and have stronger, more positive relationships.