Working with Integrity

Rule One: Don’t Exaggerate

The most common lack of integrity in the workplace is exaggeration:

  • “We all worked 100 hours last week on this.”
  • “I’ve been reminding you constantly for 9 months.”
  • “You always do this.”
  • “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

No you didn’t, no you haven’t, no I don’t, no it isn’t. Stop exaggerating. It doesn’t help your argument, it degrades your integrity.

People often exaggerate because they feel they don’t have the time or evidence to win an argument. However, it’s much healthier to say “I don’t have the time to prove to you why I’m correct” than to use flimsy exaggeration.

An example of this is when someone appeals to authority to try to win a debate. A coworker might say, “This is how it’s done in industry.” However, they are often deriving that from just a small number of previous experiences. This approach is often their way of saying “This is how I know how to do it and I don’t want to re-litigate this.”

Another example occurs in performance assessments. A manager writes a performance assessment that contains the line: “Bob is a great engineer.” Almost always, Bob is not a great engineer. Bob might be a Junior Engineer who is above expectations and someone who we’re all happy to work with. But he’s not a great engineer, and saying so confuses everyone. The manager was being lazy when they wrote that. Laziness and lack of integrity are classic bedfellows. Don’t be lazy. Don’t exaggerate.

Rule Two: Stop Trying to Be Liked

Another integrity degrader is the way people act to avoid conflict, including: not giving clear feedback, serving up sh*t sandwiches, and advocating for things too little.

For example, if you write on a peer assessment “I can’t think of any ways this person could be doing better,” you’re either extremely unimaginative or shirking your responsibilities in favor of being liked.

Note: this doesn’t mean you should be an asshole. Just stop veering away from friction.

Rule Three: Admit When You Don’t Know, Say When You Can’t Say

Especially for new managers, people often feel the need to give an answer. As hard as it may be, if you don’t know something, just say you don’t know it.

An example of this is when people ask a manager about their performance. Sometimes the manager doesn’t actually know. But most managers don’t say “I need some time to take account of all you’ve been doing to give you a full answer.” Instead, they just make something up. Don’t make things up. Be real with yourself and others about what you know, even if not knowing makes you look bad (and then figure out how to avoid looking bad in the future).

Another version of this is when a manager can’t tell someone something. Maybe it’s a confidential pending announcement or a strategic plan that hasn’t been released yet. What if someone says “Is there a secret plan in motion?” The right answer is not “no.” The right answer is “Even if there was a secret plan, I couldn’t tell you. But secret plans or not, my priority is to make sure outcomes for my team are healthy and successful.”

As a manager in particular, you have to learn how to say only the truth but not always all of the truth.

Rule Four: Be Consistent

Rounding out the four horsemen of integrity is consistency. People are inconsistent for all sorts of reasons, and it almost always undermines their integrity. Examples include:

  • Simply forgetting what you said a while back. To avoid this, always write down important feedback or decisions.
  • Not knowing the answer, so just saying anything. See rule three.
  • Making arbitrary decisions. Arbitrary decisions are the logical conclusion of lazy thinking. It takes effort to be methodical and consistent. Take that effort. As Omar Little would say, “A person has got to have a code.”