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Finding Integrity in the Digital Age

Finding Integrity in the Digital Age

The nature of work is changing. Digital is disrupting processes in every industry. It’s no longer business as usual in our organizational cultures, where we increasingly value collaboration and emotional intelligence. With this new workplace environment comes new risks and challenges of old assumptions. One pivotal thing to consider is the risk of keeping quiet versus speaking up when you have something potentially disruptive to say.

There are consequences on both ends. On the one hand, there is a risk that what you have to say might spark ideas and grow business. Organizations are increasingly valuing the diversity of opinions. In today’s digital world fueled by social media, hundreds of thousands of people may speak at once with varying degrees of support or disagreement with any popular issue of the day.

The darker side of this is when everyone agrees. There is just as much risk with keeping quiet about your feelings, even when you run the risk of going against what seems to be mass consensus.

[Related: A Conversation About Inclusion & Diversity: Breaking Down Barriers]

Jack Welch has diagnosed this as a problem with “candor” and prescribed the cure as having organizations reward honesty and frankness, specifically in the context of performance feedback and ratings. In my opinion, the conversation around candor indicates what I see as a general struggle with integrity in our daily lives.

For example, many of us who have grown up under 20th century cultural models know to compliment a friend on their haircut when they ask. If, by all standards, it was a bad haircut, or just not working for them, you would never tell them how you really feel. Instead, you would tell them it looks great, and keep your feelings to yourself. Probably they were fishing for a compliment anyway, so why not just comply? It makes it easier for everyone, right?

Behind the mask of this false politeness in society always looms the threat of consequences for honesty. If you ever wondered why people don’t say what they mean, I believe this cultural code is at the core of it.

If you think about it, there are certain risks that come from opening up and saying what you mean. People might not want to hear the truth; they might feel confused or uncomfortable, and who wants to be the person to shake things up? Saying what you feel could alienate others and what’s worse — you could be wrong and face consequences.

However, I feel that as we move into 21st century cultural models, organizations are increasingly evolving, and people (like Jack Welch) are starting to understand that candor and frankness not only add value but are essential to the way we work. Candor has larger consequences than just how your friend’s hairstyle looks. In a true collaboration, we aspire to build trusting relationships.

This is where integrity comes in, specifically the practice of saying what you mean and meaning what you say, which involves a considerable amount of inner consideration and outer behavior. Cultivating integrity is an art because aligning what you do when no one is watching with the face you put out to the world is a true challenge and takes a certain amount of creative thinking, improvisation and timing.

Our digital workplaces might encourage us to act without integrity. We may shake our head at the person on the phone, but keep our mouths closed for the fear of not seeming like a “team player.” This is especially relevant when our organizational leaders live out their careers without having had the benefit of meaningful challenges and real debate. The challenge arrives when, due to the unprecedented availability of information today, viewpoints can constantly be called into question in a myriad of ways. To be successful, leaders in the 21st century need to be ultra-responsive to feedback. They need to surround themselves with “no” men rather than “yes” men.

[Related: Values Make — and Break — Your Leadership Credibility]

This is not a new concept. On the subject of integrity, people have been talking about bringing your “whole self” to work, transparency, and the confusing cacophony of social media in general. People agree that acting as an integral whole has never been so important both for individuals and organizations. As culture continues to change and evolve around digital and the future of work, let’s all practice living and working honestly, valuing integrity, speaking truthfully, and being courageous to have those difficult conversations (easy to say, right?).

The risks of not saying something that could be wrong, incorrect, or a bad idea (but potentially valuable) outweigh the risks of being labeled a disruptor. Let’s support those who express uncomfortable opinions. We don’t have to support them with our agreement — but we can show support them by letting them be, and being OK with the difference.

Let’s get comfortable with uncertainty, and embrace the nature of change so that we can live out whole and integral lives where true transparency can thrive.

This article previously appeared on LinkedIn.

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Vera Lentini is the Website Content Manager at Metlife. Her specialty is applying common sense to complex user experiences, specifically in finance, delivering the human aspect of targeted content. 


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