Ever felt that sinking feeling when you realize someone you trusted isn’t who you thought they were? Yeah, me too.
We all want to believe in the good of people, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.
It’s not about being judgmental; it’s about preserving our own emotional well-being.
Knowing the signs that someone lacks integrity can be a lifesaver, helping you dodge bullets you didn’t even see coming.
So let’s pull back the curtain and shine a light on 7 behaviors that signal someone may be missing a moral compass. Trust me, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for these.
1) They participate a lot in gossip
Ever sat down for a casual coffee catch-up, only to find that the conversation quickly turns into a session of whispering secrets about others?
I know, it’s tempting to get caught up in the drama, to listen and even contribute. But here’s the harsh truth: if they’re gossiping to you, they’re likely gossiping about you.
Gossip is more than just idle chatter; it’s a sign that someone might lack integrity.
When a person freely shares someone else’s secrets or shortcomings, it sends a clear message — they can’t be trusted to treat your own vulnerabilities with care and respect.
You see, gossip doesn’t just hurt the people being talked about; it damages the trust within the circle of those participating. And remember, trust is the backbone of any relationship. When that erodes, what are you left with?
So next time you find yourself in a hushed conversation, spilling or hearing the latest “tea,” think twice.
See if you can steer the conversation to something else, or at least talking about others in a positive way. Just because they lack integrity, doesn’t mean you have to get sucked into being the same.
2) They exaggerate stories for effect
We all love a good story, don’t we? There’s something spellbinding about listening to a friend recount an epic adventure or a hilarious encounter.
But have you ever listened to someone and thought, “Wait a minute, that sounds a bit too sensational to be true”?
Or you might not have questioned it, but later someone else told you a much less impressive version of the story, or it became apparent somehow.
Exaggerating stories for dramatic effect might seem harmless at first glance. You might even find it entertaining.
However, the problem starts when this behavior becomes a pattern. When someone feels the need to embellish facts consistently, it raises questions about their integrity.
You see, these little “white lies” have a ripple effect. They create a world where the truth gets bent, and reality becomes distorted.
And when you can’t trust someone to give you an honest account of simple events, how can you rely on them for anything significant?
3) They give compliments without meaning them
Who doesn’t love a good compliment? A few kind words can instantly brighten your day and boost your self-esteem.
But there’s a fine line between genuine praise and empty flattery, and it’s essential to know the difference.
A great example is from the movie Mean Girls — Regina tells a girl “I love your skirt!” and when she walks away, turns to her friend and says “Oh my god, that’s the most disgusting skirt I’ve ever seen.”
You might think, “Well, at least she’s trying to be nice” — but this shows a huge lack of integrity. They’re using words not to uplift, but to manipulate or win favor.
It cheapens the very essence of a compliment, which should come from a place of sincerity and kindness.
I mean, think about it: if they really wanted to say something nice, surely they could find something to say they truly believe.
So if you find yourself in a similar situation to Regina’s friends, pay attention. They’re telling you a lot about their character.
4) They offer to help, but don’t follow through
We all want to be seen as helpful — but some people do it at the expense of their integrity.
“Need help moving? Count me in!” they say, or “I’d love to help you with that project!” But when the day comes, they’re nowhere to be found, or have ten thousand excuses why they can’t.
What they’re doing is obvious: they want to be seen as kind, but they’re not willing to follow through. Because they never truly meant their offer in the first place.
A person with integrity will tell you straight up, “I wish I could help, but I don’t have the capacity right now.”
It might disappoint you in the moment, but in that context it’s actually the kindest thing they can do for you.
They won’t leave you in the lurch, and you can make other arrangements that you can truly count on.
5) They are wishy-washy about commitments
Here’s another similar behavior to offering help without meaning it. You try to make plans with someone, but all you get is a “maybe”, “we’ll see”, or “let’s play it by ear.”
Granted, there are times when we need some more time to know if we can commit to something or not.
But a person with real integrity will communicate to you when they can know for sure, or they would rather tell you a straight “no”.
Because just being wishy-washy about commitments means they’re not giving you the respect of a straight answer. This puts you in a tough spot.
You can’t plan around a “maybe,” and you’re left hanging, unsure of what will happen next.
I recently spoke to a business owner who was looking for a designer. He was having discussions with a freelancer, but she didn’t want to commit to any deadline or contract length.
It was clear to him that she wasn’t being respectful of his time, and wanted to keep her options open in case something better came along. Needless to say, she wasn’t the one he hired.
6) They’re reluctant to apologize
We all make mistakes; it’s a part of being human. What sets people apart is how they handle those mistakes.
If you’re dealing with someone who can’t bring themselves to say “I’m sorry,” you’re dealing with someone who likely lacks integrity.
An apology is more than just words; it’s an admission of wrongdoing and a step towards making amends.
But when someone avoids apologizing, it feels like they’re dodging responsibility. It’s like they’re saying your feelings, or the inconvenience they caused you, don’t really matter.
Because their priority is preserving their flawless self-image — or their illusion that they have one. A person who truly cares about the relationship will put empathy over discomfort.
7) They have different standards for themselves than for others
Ever notice how some people seem to play by a different rulebook? You know, the kind where they expect punctuality but are always late themselves, or demand honesty but aren’t transparent with you.
I realized a friend of mine was doing this — he complains about people who talk on the phone on public transport, but when he has to make a call, he always has a “valid” excuse to do it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to put my friend down — we all make mistakes, and have areas to grow in.
And of course, it’s easier to have compassion for ourselves when we know our reasons for doing something, and judge others when we have no idea what’s going on in their life.
But when you take a step back, you can see how this behavior is not okay. It’s like they’re saying, “I’m an exception to the rule,” as if they’re more important than you or anyone else.
This creates an uneven playing field in your relationship with them.
So if you catch someone applying different rules for themselves, it might be time to rethink how close you allow them to get to you.
Dealing with someone who lacks integrity
Finding out someone close to you lacks integrity is a tough pill to swallow. Believe me, I’ve been there.
It’s like a fog lifts, and you see the relationship for what it really is — unbalanced, unfair, and emotionally draining.
So what do you do now?
Setting clear boundaries is a good starting point. Let the person know what you can tolerate and what’s a deal-breaker.
And remember, it’s okay to distance yourself for the sake of your well-being.
You may be tempted to think you can change them, but the harsh truth is, people only change when they want to. Your emotional and mental health should always be your priority.
Sometimes the most courageous act is to recognize the lack of integrity in others and choose to surround yourself with people who treat you with the honesty, respect, and kindness you deserve.