The Hidden Power of Emotional Integrity: Unlocking Stronger Relationships and Preventing Burnout in the Workplace
Do you have emotional integrity? It’s something we can build throughout our lives. It’s a component of emotional intelligence and I wished I’d known more about emotional integrity when I was leading, because it would have made my leadership more impactful for both my team and organization (and more effortless for me). Emotional integrity is not a new concept, but it’s certainly not one we talk about a lot (like many professionals, you may not have even heard of it). Yet, it’s incredibly helpful to understand, particularly at work where it plays a big role in building trust and relatability with others.
Emotional integrity refers to the ability to recognize, express, and work with one's emotions in a healthy and constructive way. It’s an essential aspect of building and maintaining relationships with others. While having high overall integrity is important, recognizing low emotional integrity is key. Low emotional integrity can undermine your work due to the inability to connect with others on a deeper level. If you struggle with low emotional integrity, you may have difficulty consistently expressing your feelings in ways that are honest, authentic, even respectful. You may suppress your emotions or resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as avoidance, expressions of frustration or aggression, which can put your reputation at risk, as well as your wellbeing.
Low emotional integrity makes it difficult to connect with others on an emotional level, struggling to understand and empathize with others' perspectives and unable to connect to what they’re feeling. If you don’t have low emotional integrity, you may work with someone who does. People with low emotional integrity can face challenges with building trust and intimacy in their relationships. Trust is a fundamental component of any healthy relationship, requiring emotional vulnerability and honesty. Without emotional integrity, establishing trust is difficult, as people may not express themselves well, or withhold their true feelings or intentions. At work, people with low emotional integrity often hold themselves accountable to a very high expression of integrity in their work. In fact, they seem to value work over people, making it hard for others to connect to them on a personal level, even though they want the best for their team/organization.
Low emotional integrity happens for all of us from time to time. As an example, telling colleagues you’re “fine” even though you have a splitting headache, can be a way to muscle through the last part of your work day with less interruption. Every now and again, low emotional integrity isn’t likely to impact the way you’re perceived by others. However, if you’re hiding your true feelings the majority of the time, it can make it difficult for others to connect with you, especially when you’re a leader. Low emotional integrity, when frequent, can undermine relationships with your staff, causing unnecessary misunderstandings and (sometimes) conflict. When leaders struggle to express their emotions effectively, they may inadvertently communicate in ways that are unclear or insensitive. This can lead to misinterpretations, hurt feelings, and resentment, which will frustrate working relationships over time.
Another way low emotional integrity can impact the workplace is through burnout. A change in someone’s emotional integrity at work can signal they’re at risk; unexplained emotional outbursts, or uncharacteristic indifference to important work assignments can be signs. In the context of emotional integrity, burnout can impact a person’s ability to align their emotions, thoughts, and actions. They may feel emotionally drained, have difficulty connecting with their own emotions, or experience a disconnection between their true feelings and their outward expressions. This misalignment can lead to a sense of inauthenticity and a breakdown in key relationships at work.
It's important to recognize that emotions and behaviors are complex and influenced by various factors, which is why empathy and communication are so important when you’re a leader. Not everyone experiences low emotional integrity at work, but it can be frustrating and damaging when someone does because it’s a critical aspect of building and maintaining healthy relationships.
While overall integrity is important, emotional integrity is an essential component of building strong, meaningful relationships for everyone, but particularly for leaders. By cultivating emotional self-awareness, practicing healthy coping mechanisms, and communicating honestly and respectfully, anyone can strengthen their emotional integrity and improve their relationships with others. Watching for shifts in emotional integrity can help mitigate the signs and risks of professional burnout, for yourself or others on your team. Knowing more about emotional integrity would’ve been a great benefit for me as a leader, empowering me to support my team’s wellbeing at work (as well as my own).