What is character
and how to acquire it
How developing your character can help you stand your ground
By Angela Civitella
Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.
– Phillip Brooks
‘When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.’
– Japanese Proverb
Think about the last time you had to make a difficult decision when you were forced to choose between the “easy” option and the “right” option.
Did you take the easy choice to avoid a confrontation, even though it conflicted with your views and beliefs? Or did you stand your ground, and make the right choice?
When we have to make a decision like this, the choices can often be clear, because our “heart” tells us what is right and what is wrong. So, why do we sometimes give in and not do the right thing? Can we all learn how to stand our ground? Or are some of us naturally better at “fighting our corner”, while others just don’t have enough “character” to do so?
In this article, we examine what character is and look at what you can do to develop it. We’ll also examine how you can defend your character by standing your ground.
What is character?
“Character” is a collective term for the qualities that you have, or don’t have, that set you apart from other people. When we talk about someone “having character” in a positive way, these qualities could include traits such as courage, honesty, loyalty, and integrity. Our character helps us to decide between what we think is right and what we think is wrong.
‘Character” is a collective term for the qualities that you have, or don’t have, that set you apart from other people.’
For example, a manager will show her character when she defends the actions of her team to her executive board. She knows her team is doing the right thing, so she continues to defend their actions and refuses to back down, despite harsh criticism and tremendous pressure.
Or, a CEO will show his character if he turns down a lucrative account because the prospective client uses what he believes is unacceptable labour practices in its off-shore manufacturing facilities.
We’re not born with the qualities that make up our character. Character develops as we go through our life and enjoy different experiences, and it’s within our power to strengthen it if we want to.
Here are some ways you can develop character:
Define your core values
Which moral values do you feel strongest about? You probably already have a sense of what these are. Think about when you’ve been most upset with someone in the past. Chances are that this person did something that was against one of your core values. Did he or she lie to you, or take advantage of someone else? Or take a shortcut that put a customer’s safety at risk? Think about your experiences and make a list of the values you feel are most important to you.
‘Character develops as we go through our life and enjoy different experiences, and it’s within our power to strengthen it if we want to.’
Look for ways to use these values every day
For example, if one of your core values is honesty, focus on being honest with all of your co-workers, even if the situation seems unimportant.
Remember situations in the past when you didn’t stand your ground.
What could you have done differently? Don’t use this as a time to blame yourself and feel guilty about what you did at the time – all of us have made mistakes. But you have the power to do the right thing now. Remember and learn from past mistakes so that you can avoid them in the future.
Evaluate your circle of friends and colleagues
Do you spend time with people you admire? Do these people have the kind of character you’d like to see in yourself? If not, perhaps you could spend some time with different friends and colleagues who have traits that you hold in high esteem. The more time you spend with people you admire, the more you can observe and learn from their actions.
Act on your beliefs
Good character is built on what you do. So take every opportunity you can to put your beliefs and values into action. Even small decisions in minor situations can make a big difference.
Find more activities to develop your character
Do volunteer work, read biographies about people you admire and respect, and work to develop your emotional intelligence.
‘The more time you spend with people you admire, the more you can observe and learn from their actions.’
Defending your character
There are times when our hearts tell us to stand up for what we think is right. But how and when should we stand our ground?
All of us are different, and the situations in which we find ourselves can be complicated. If you decide to stand your ground on an issue, keep these tips in mind:
Know when to stop being nice
Many of us let situations get out of control because we want to be polite and not “rock the boat”. But there’s a big difference between being nice, and not speaking up because we’re afraid or unsure. Listen to your instincts in these situations. Sometimes it’s best to defend yourself, or someone else, and not be so concerned about being nice.
Look at the facts
If you have confidence in the logical and factual side of your argument or beliefs, it will be easier to stand your ground. So make sure that you have all of the information you need. You also need to ensure that you understand this information. If you think other people are withholding any information or not explaining things clearly, make sure that you persist in asking them questions until you fully understand the situation.
Work with people, not against them
When you communicate your beliefs, be assertive. This means getting your views across while considering the rights, needs and wants of others. Be polite and thoughtful, and don’t let emotion get in the way of what you have to say. Respect people, and communicate as unemotionally and as clearly as you can.
Don’t force your beliefs onto others
For example, you may believe that eating meat is wrong. But criticizing others when they eat meat in your presence is pushing your beliefs onto them.
‘… there’s a big difference between being nice, and not speaking up because we’re afraid or unsure… Sometimes it’s best to defend yourself, or someone else, and not be so concerned about being nice.’
Letting things go
There will be times when you will have to admit defeat, back down, and make the best of the situation – you won’t get your own way every time. But, by standing your ground initially, you have the opportunity to show your character, and communicate your thoughts and concerns. Your managers and colleagues will respect you for this.
However, if you regularly have to do things in your job that go against your character and core values, you may decide to look at continuing your career elsewhere. If you look for a new role, try to choose an organization with values that are more in line with yours. You can find this information out by looking at the organization’s corporate mission or vision statements. Or, you could talk to existing employees and find out what behaviours they think the organization values.
To develop character, start by highlighting your most important values. Then look for ways to uphold those values every day, even in unimportant situations. Also, look at the friends and co-workers who you spend the most time with. Surround yourself with people you admire, to further inspire you to strengthen your own character.
When you do stand your ground, communicate your views clearly and don’t be afraid of “rocking the boat”. But respect the views and needs of other people, and recognize that there may be times when you have to back down.
Image: Nelson Mandela – Official South-African government portrait
Angela Civitella, a certified management business coach with more than 20 years of proven ability as a negotiator, strategist, and problem-solver creates sound and solid synergies with those in quest of improving their leadership and team building skills. You can reach Angela at 514 254-2400 • linkedin.com/in/angelacivitella/ • intinde.com • @intinde