The Integrity Gap Part 1

Slipping into the Integrity Gap:
Why We Say Yes

Doing business at light speed leaves modern life susceptible to slipping up on a commitment now and again. Entrepreneurs and others in business are especially vulnerable. While busy fulfilling promises wearing one hat, we may ignore completing commitments made under another. The consequences can result in an integrity gap.

Integrity is often described as saying what you will do and doing what you have said you would. A breach of either principle can create significant problems in business and personal life. This challenge is so wide spread that many TV news programs dedicate a reporter who follows up on broken promises for consumers. Program managers know that there are ample opportunities for the reporter to make a name for him or herself acting as a public advocate. As business people we labor to avoid this kind of notoriety.

Often non-delivery on a promise is not intentional but rather sprouts out of the rush to do business on a daily basis. The modern businessperson must multitask to get through the day. New challenges arise hourly and priorities often have to be shifted. These circumstances create an environment where keeping every promise to every person is nearly impossible. Given the state of modern life and business, what can
you do?

Dual Approach
The integrity gap must be approached from both ends: Making commitments and keeping commitments. Since making the commitment comes first, I will cover that aspect in the remainder of this column and reserve keeping commitments and resolutions for future writing.

We receive multiple requests in a day for help, information and action. Some appear almost trivial like lending someone a dollar, a book or an ear. However, what if I am scraping by until next payday, using the book to do research or am in a pinch for time?  I may have to put off your request. Later when I intend to get back to you, a number of other priorities may have changed.  Those making such requests are not always aware of what’s occupying the attention of the person being asked.

Not all requests can or should be fulfilled in the course of a day’s work. Some should never be agreed to because we do not have the time, the skills or the inclination to fulfill them. Yet, most people find it easier to say “yes” and continue with what they are doing rather than saying  “no.”

The Trap
We have been conditioned to fall into a psychological trap. Giving a negative response is viewed as not being helpful, not operating like a team player or as being selfish. Our natural inclination is to see ourselves and desire to be seen as competent and willing to lend a hand. This psychological stance leads us to make commitments we have no business making since we cannot possibly fulfill them. This evasive maneuver helps us see ourselves in a shining light in the short term but can lead to a lot of trouble.

Some people have learned to make a living taking advantage of others by forcing them into this dilemma between granting a request (maintaining a positive personal view) and feeling bad about refusing (tarnishing that view).

To lock the psychological trap, the asker can respond to a “no” with, “Why not?” This requires a reason for not complying with the request. Now even more time is needed to give a reason, which, more often than not, is one of convenience rather than accuracy. The person to whom the request was made is now pinned in by this rationale reeled off the top of his or her head even though it may not necessarily be true. The requester can add power to the game by creating a sense of shame in the person or by attacking the reason.

More often than not, a benign intent drives the request. However, even if the person asks for something with a pure motive, we are still at the mercy of the psychological traps described above. The easiest way out, therefore, seems to be to say “yes” whether we mean it or not.

Now we have committed to something we either will do, forget about or never intend to complete. If we have time and resources to take care of it, we increase our integrity. If we forget or have no intention to fulfill the commitment, we are well on the way to slipping into the integrity gap.