Honesty and integrity, remembered long after spin is forgotten

By Virginia Wallace, Commtractor, Lawyer and Communications Professional

There’s an impressive trust deficit in politics and government these days.  It isn’t helped with spectacular failures in public institutions around us. We need look no further than the current situation in Victoria.

Politicians have a huge job in trying to win our trust.  The difficulty is that people must start to trust, to try to build trust.  Trust and honesty are inextricably aligned.  It’s easy for politicians to lose focus on the broader population and instead focus on noisy groups or interests that resonate most with them and this undermines trust in the general population. Of course every politician and political party will have core beliefs from which they will not and should not deviate, such as the freedom of the individual in the Liberal Party platform and union solidarity in the ALP.  That goes to honesty and trust, to represent what you truly stand for and where your values lie and to explain it adequately.

Here’s a few pointers about building trust and maintaining it:

Be honest is all your dealings.  Honesty is the bedrock.  Creative bending of the truth will ultimately see you undone.  We all understand honesty is the best policy. We tell this to our kids, right?  If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.  Honesty is a key trait of successful, admired people.

Listen to complaints and take feedback on board.  What someone complains about, many others are thinking.  The person who brings a genuine complaint to you about the impact of a policy decision is free feedback!  It’s your opportunity to amend something or address concerns.  If you can’t take complaints or feedback into account, explain why honestly, and connect it back to your values.  People may not like it, but they will appreciate that you took the time to understand their issues and explain how your reasons connected to your values. You will win grudging admiration, and that’s close to respect.

Explain decisions thoroughly and be prepared to honestly answer the hard questions.  Only a small number of the population will be impressed with slick responses and the rest will see it for what it is.  Ignore the social media trolls that are amplified but do not represent what the broad majority is thinking.

Reflect on your own behaviour. Did I act with integrity? Did that decision resonate with my core values? Could I have handled that better? Learn from this reflection so your experience can give you the skills to maintain your honesty and integrity into the future.

A quick apology is a good apology.  Most people know that no-one is perfect.  If you’ve made a mistake, own up to it.  An honest apology, acceptance of responsibility and commitment to address any issues can quickly defuse a situation and will bring people along with you.

Keep your word.  If whatever reason you can’t keep your word, be honest about the reasons why, and explain what has changed so you give people an opportunity to understand.

These pointers are easy to say but harder to do when the going gets tough.  The need for constant short-term wins doesn’t help.  Keeping the value of honesty front and centre will be remembered by people long after the short-term win has been forgotten.

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