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The Behaviorist: In the information age, actions still speak more loudly

With anguished eyes, my clients sit across the coffee table from me.

They too often and too consistently tell me that they once truly believed in their leader (or their teammate, or their employee or their board president). They say that they once would have scaled mountains for them.

Before their workplace-hearts were broken by the insidious destroyer of teams and dreams: incongruence.

Seneca said that no one can be happy if they’re being lied to or if they’re lying. Camus said that lying is more than just not telling the truth; it’s speaking and acting inconsistently with what you really believe (incongruence). Incongruence makes you unhappy.

Congruence, on the other hand, is the act of being harmoniously aligned, inside and out. Your values are reflected in your words. Your words are reflected in your behaviors. You live your values consistently and authentically. We trust people who are congruent because they do what they say they are going to do. They follow through, which makes us feel they have integrity.

Organizations can strive to be congruent, too. Companies are wise to line up their beliefs with their words and their actions.

The founder of the shoe company, Dansko, Mandy Cabot, was congruent from the start. When she launched the company in 1990, she believed deeply that she could create a business that could be a force for good in the world. She believed in the notion of a capitalism that could make an exceptional product, provide a flourishing work environment for her team, create an ethical supply chain and also turn a profit. Even in the difficult early days of the business, she aligned her beliefs with her words and her actions. Now, almost thirty years later, Dansko is debt-free, an industry darling, 100 percent employee owned with annual revenues of more than $150 million.

It’s not always easy to be congruent.

When outdoors company Patagonia faced significant setbacks during the depths of the financial crisis, its leaders fought the urge to focus on finances and instead doubled-down on their signature environment-first approach to running their business. Rather than laying people off, they found creative ways to reduce overhead. Subsequently, sales began to climb to unheard-of levels. It was tough, but they stayed true to their beliefs in both their words and their actions.

There are other benefits to congruence. The psychologist Carl Rogers believed that one could only become a better version of oneself (self-actualize) when one’s vision of who they would like to be became congruent with their actual behavior. One must match behaviors with the idealized self, and this is as true for organizations as it is for individuals.

How might things change if both individuals and companies adopted the practice of congruence?

Congruence builds foundational habits for psychological safety, innovation and high performance. Promises are fulfilled (without threats, cajoling or guilt), employee engagement is high, communication is trusted and expectations are clear, which all leaves more time, money and political capital to expend on other interesting and even profitable activities.

How can I become congruent? How can my team or my company embrace congruence?

  1. Being congruent requires self-awareness to understand your beliefs, values, interests, principles, goals and, yes, even feelings. Journaling, mindfulness, emotional intelligence development, a values in action assessment and creating your own personal core values are good places to start. Congruent people and companies are keenly aware of their purpose on the planet. Become curious and take notice.
  2. Congruence requires healthy levels of assertiveness and emotional expression in order to convey your beliefs in a constructive manner. Learn your own preferred style of communicating by taking the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument. Become skillful in executing the full range of assertiveness from passive to even aggressive. Perfect the art of weaving emotional language into your expression to inspire and elevate your message.
  3. Congruence requires self-discipline, too, as we must resist the urge to play fast and loose with the truth. Congruence also requires you to stay true to your word and follow through on promises. When you encounter that high school frenemy at the grocery store, tap the breaks before you blurt out, “Yes, it’s so great seeing you! Let’s get lunch!” William Ury’s liberating work, “The Positive No,” can help you find the right words and motivation. Without the ability to say no, you’ll never get to your big yes.
  4. Ask for kind-hearted accountability partners. When you fall out of alignment, your accountability partner will deliver the much-needed tap on the shoulder or elbow in the ribs to let you know that you are human. Then, sincerely feel sorry, authentically say that you are sorry and intentionally change your behavior accordingly (which is, in fact, congruent! Congratulations!).

Kedren Crosby is president of Work Wisdom LLC, a Lancaster-based firm specializing in organizational culture, communication, collaboration, conflict and coaching. She can be reached at [email protected] or 717-327-7780.

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