What Kind of Integrity Is Needed to Build Trust at Work?

Don't confuse personal integrity and behavioral integrity

Posted Apr 24, 2017

Like the word "trust," which means different things to different people in different situations, so it is with the word "integrity." When we use the word integrity, typically we mean our own or someone else's personal integrity, rather than intellectual, artistic, professional integrity.

To understand how integrity impacts trust at work, it's important to understand the difference between personal integrity and behavioral integrity. Personal integrity relates  to a person's character, moral code, or ethical principles, while behavioral integrity is in the "eye of the beholder;" it is how one is perceived by others, based on how actions align with words.

What's the difference? Consider two examples:

  • Being a vegan: If you're a vegan you demonstrate personal integrity by not eating or using animal products. Your actions are self-integrated, based on your moral convictions. You may or may not share your beliefs with others. Being a vegan is a way you orient your life according to your principles, placing restrictions on yourself. For most of your friends or colleagues, your vegan life-style won't increase or decrease their trust in you, although some may admire your values. The fact that you're a vegan is about you, not them. That's not to say people with personal integrity don't build trust, they do. But not by using personal integrity alone.
  • PublicDomainImages-free to use
    Source: PublicDomainImages-free to use
    Being a parent: Let's say your 4-year-old refuses to pick up her toys, throwing a tired tantrum. You tell her she won't get a bedtime story unless she does. After a challenging time between the two of you, eventually you acquiescence and read her a story to get her to sleep. There's no moral issue here; there's a behavior-consistency one: What you said and what you did were not aligned. Is this a rare event or a regular one? The frequency of your word-action behavior will guide her future decision whether to trust that your words will be backed by your actions.
PublicDomainImages-free to use
Source: PublicDomainImages-free to use

The reality when it comes to trust at work is this:  personal integrity by itself isn't enough. We must also demonstrate behavior integrity. 

Four take-aways for anyone wanting trusted work relationships:

  1. Personal integrity is primarily a relationship one has with oneself; your own integrated sense of identity within a moral or ethical context. Behavioral integrity is about others and how your stated principles or values are observed by them. Behavioral integrity is the subjective perceptions others have of how credible you are, i.e. how aligned between words and actions; how worthy of their trust.
  2. Behavioral integrity isn't grounded in what you believe is morally right or wrong -- after all, you may believe one thing, and say or do another. It's judged against the backdrop of your words, not unspoken values, standards, or principles.
  3. Behavioral integrity isn't doing what's right (although that's always helpful), but actually do what you say you'll do. If you want trust at work, the question to ask is -- are you good to your word?
  4. Consistency matters. Time matters. Consistency affects the interpretation of your behavioral integrity, over time, both positively or negatively. No consistency = no believability. No believability = no credibility. No credibility = no trust that you'll do as you say.

Bottom line? It's not your personal integrity that will build trust. Having personal integrity is an expected norm in most workplaces, and awards you no added trust points as a leader or coworker. In order to build trust you must demonstrate your behavioral integrity. It's essential for creating and operating with trust currency at work.
 More tips about how to create and operate with trust at work:

You'll find more tips and how-tos in my book: Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation