We don't have to scan far into today's headlines to see that integrity is lacking in the marketplace. Scandals of fraud and mismanagement have rocked nearly every industry.
Our society seems to have a high degree of tolerance for those who have made mistakes in the ethics and integrity department. But in spite of our willingness to forgive and the stories of individuals who have seemed to demonstrate that crime does pay, most of the time shortcomings in the integrity department result in ruined careers and demolished lives.
As believers in business, how are we to think about integrity? Although we may never have been tempted to cook the books or commit insider trading, are there areas we still need to explore in the integrity-challenged world in which we operate today?
I say yes, definitely. Jesus' teachings provide us with examples of how believers are supposed to behave very differently from those who do not know God (see Matt. 5:1-48). These teachings have huge implications for us when it comes to work and other facets of our lives.
More than just not doing the wrong thing, to an even greater degree, integrity has to do with doing the right thing. In my experience, there are three areas in which women struggle the most: integrity in speech, integrity in image and what I will refer to as our M.O.—modus operandi—how we do what we do.
Integrity in Speech
There's plenty in the Bible to remind us that our speech has an intensity of power and purpose (see James 3:5-10). The Proverbs 31 woman had evidently overcome in this area: "She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue" (v. 26, NIV). Several significant areas come to mind when we're talking about the tongue: gossip, inappropriate talk, response to insults and managing conflict.
Gossip. It is so easy to fall into the gossip trap. We sometimes even use prayer requests as an excuse to talk about the personal crisis in someone's life instead of just leaving it at, "Pray for Bill and Sally—God knows what they need."
At work, the most successful strategy to deal with gossip is to walk away. It doesn't do us much good to just keep our mouths shut but then sit there at the lunch table and listen to all the dirt being dished out.
Not participating in juicy gossip sessions builds trust between you and your co-workers. If Carol in sales has been thinking about sharing a personal problem with you because she knows you are a person of faith, she's much more likely to bring you into her confidence if she sees you back away from the gossip sessions by the soda machine.
Inappropriate talk. Here is where I struggle. I don't mean cussing like a sailor but rather letting my speech slip into clever jabs or funny insults that get a laugh but do little to build up a person or help the situation.
Personal jabs and jokes may be routine in your workplace, but that doesn't make these conversations right. My advice is to keep your speech pure, being careful not to appear self-righteous. You may avoid an employee relations situation that degenerates into a "he said/she said" battle or something even worse.
Response to insults. When we have been slighted, it is easy to jump into a defensive mode and launch into the offending person with a barrage of angry insults. A couple deep breaths and a quickly muttered prayer can make the difference between an all-out conflict and a brief encounter that fades away.
When a conflict arises, we can calmly confront the offender with a fact-based, personal statement such as, "You know, Sue, that comment you made in yesterday's meeting really hurt my feelings. I want to have positive working relationships with all my colleagues, so I wanted you to know how I feel." Or we can walk away and leave it alone, knowing it's in God's hands and that His truth will prevail (see Deut. 32:35).
Managing conflict. How we handle conflict says volumes about what we believe. In addition to heartfelt prayer, you probably have some additional options, depending on your company. Asking your manager to help mediate and solve a problem with a co-worker can be a good route to repairing a relationship. Of course, if the manager is the problem, then you may have to take advantage of your company's mediation program or human resources teams who are available to help with conflict.
If you take the high road and initiate the resolution of a conflict that is distracting you from your work, you'll be seen as someone with high integrity and a commitment to the business. People who respond well in the face of conflict are valuable commodities to productivity-minded management teams.
In her Bible study Believing God (LifeWay) Beth Moore writes: "When Christ empowered His disciples to speak under His authority and produce certain results, He treated the tongue as an instrument....The Holy Spirit infuses power through the instrument....When we believe and speak, the Holy Spirit can use our tongues as instruments or vessels of supernatural power and can bring about stunning results" (see 2 Cor. 4:13).
If we speak the words we believe based on what we believe, we speak with power. As Christians, we can speak the presence of God into our marketplace.
Integrity of Image
Let's say we have tamed the temptation to gossip, and we've gotten our conflict-management skills honed to an art. In addition to these, our image also says volumes about what we believe, who we are and how we live out integrity in the workplace.
I'm not just talking about how we dress, although dressing for success has great merit. I am talking about how we present ourselves not just physically but also through our interactions in the workplace.
I'm all for using my femininity to endear myself to people. But I can't spout stuff that sounds like Scripture one day and wear a cleavage-revealing blouse and too short skirt the next. It is important to carefully consider our appearance and find ways to be stylish and still appropriate at the same time.
Perhaps we should totally ignore what people look like, but few of us do. For that reason, our image has impact on our integrity in the workplace. This extends beyond what we wear.
When we send out written communications full of typographical errors, we convey a carelessness that does not reflect the scriptural command to do all things excellently. In a world where second best will often do, we can truly set ourselves apart by portraying an image of professionalism and excellence.
My mother used to tell me to dress and act like those a step ahead of me on the career ladder. That's not a bad idea. Beyond dress, though, your integrity is also impacted by your M.O.: your modus operandi.
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