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Honor the Absent: A Reflection Of Your Integrity
By: Jerry R. Mitchell
Stephen R. Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People states,
“One of the most important ways to manifest integrity is to be loyal to
those who are not present. In doing so, we build the trust of those who are
present. When you defend those who are absent, you retain the trust of those
present.” Acceptance of this premise of ” loyalty to the absent” should
become part of your personality. Covey uses the term ” duplicity” to
This ingenious and somewhat simple principle has resolved many
people-to-people problems in my dealings with my family, friends and
clients. Suppose you and I were talking alone, and we were criticizing
another person both of us knew in a way that we would not dare tom do if
they were present. Now what would happen if you and I had a falling out? You
know I’m going to be discussing your weaknesses with someone else. That’s
what you and I did behind our friends back. You know my nature. I’ll sweet
talk to your face and badmouth you behind your back. You’ve seen me do it.
That’s the lesson of duplicity.
Unfortunately, intimidation frequently is a cause of duplicity. The
strong-wi1led personalities typically found in some people tend to inhibit
open communication between people. If a person is afraid of having a frank
discussion with another person, he or she may avoid such a direct encounter
with that person and seek instead to resolve a problem indirectly through me
or some other third party.
The fallacy of this approach is obvious. If I participate with another
person in a discussion critical of someone who isn’t present, despite the
best of intentions, I’ve demonstrated by my conduct that I will listen to
disloyal discussions about people who are absent. This breeds a lack of
trust in me. Without the trust of other people, I can’t be effective. The
truth is, none of us can.
I have seen the power of Covey’s principle at work. Duplicity is a difficult
habit to break. But as people begin to trust one another to be honest and
open, interpersonal relationships begin to grow and flourish. As a
consequence people work much more effectively together.