How often do you think, before you make a promise or commitment to someone? Do you even think about what will happen if you can’t deliver on your word? Does it really matter? Many would say that most promises are not tied to life and death situations so you can be flexible but in my opinion, YES, they really do matter.
Today, many are very casual about making promises and commitments. I find many times, that promises and commitments are made in a knee-jerk reaction with little or no real intention of keeping them. For example, how often have you uttered these words, “Let’s do lunch,” “I’ll call you later,” or “I’ll be there in a sec”. Do you realize that these are really examples of disposable promises or commitments? They are often made but seldom kept in real life, whether personal or in business.
Typically, when you break a promise, small or large, sirens aren’t going to go off, however, it can subtly or not so subtly damage a relationship or your reputation. To better frame the potential, I always recommend that people think about how they feel when someone else breaks a promise to them or gets caught in a lie. Doesn’t it make you feel violated or cheated? Often you begin to question the trust that you may have given to this person in the past.
Lies, which can often be part of a promise or commitment challenge, can be equally dangerous because getting away with a lie often traps a person into believing they’re invincible and that there is little chance of getting caught. The problem with this, like breaking promises or commitments, it can become a habit, forcing people to spend precious time and energy keeping their stories straight.
As Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
The trap: “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
So how do you avoid the casual treatment trap of promises or commitments and avoid building bad habits that bring about lies and manipulation? Here are some ideas to help you navigate this very critical part of being authentic and transparent.
Understand that Keeping a Promise and Telling the Truth Are Liberating:
I have always held that a promise given is a commitment that must be kept. In our relativistic world, we often apply an arbitrary rating scale. In this system, we believe that breaking a big promise is inexcusable while a small one (disposable one) is acceptable.
Personally, I think that’s simply false. While breaking a big promise, such as failing to meet a project deliverable or completing an important task, can destroy a peer or customer relationship, reneging on simple promises, such as being on time, sets an atmosphere of doubt on future behavior.
Simply put, trust is built through a series of communication experiences and successful commitment deliveries shared with others. When this behavior is consistent, faith in the relationship continues to develop and strengthens. Now this is very liberating and frees you to expand and grow.
On the other hand, when promises are broken or people are misled, the bonds of trust are breached.
Broken promises or commitments often send a subtle message that the individual either didn’t think before making the promises or didn’t care if they let you down. It also sends a perception that their needs are more important than yours.
When done consistently this puts you in a negative spiral that can challenge any growth you or your company are striving to accomplish. I look at it as putting you into bondage as opposed to the liberation that comes with being authentic and transparent. So, be careful about the promises and that you make and with whom you make them.
Always Under Promise and Over Deliver
Too many times today products and services are promising astronomical results. Personally, I believe, if you can’t keep a promise, don’t make it. The same holds true for commitments of time and effort.
I highly suggest NOT using the word guarantee in any business or personal situation. For example, as a programmer, you can’t guarantee someone a program will work perfectly the first time the client uses it. However, you can show them your track record and promise them that you’ll work hard on their behalf, that provides value.
When it comes to time, you can’t guarantee that you’ll arrive in two hours, particularly if you live in an urban area, but you can promise that you’re going to leave at 10am.
Anticipate the Uncontrollable Influences
There are things that occur that are uncontrollable by us that can lead to broken promises, and generally, these are excusable. For example, when you can’t deliver something on time because of an uncontrollable event, such as a family illness, most people will understand that the lapse was unintentional and unavoidable.
On the other hand, breaking a promise or commitment by oversleeping or forgetting, will be viewed by many as intentionally missing the deadline or appointment and you’ll have to face the consequences. After all, you should be able to control your calendar & time.
Stop the Spin, Perceptions Can Be Damaging
When we distort the truth by exaggerating, spinning the truth, or withholding key facts, we definitely weaken our credibility for the future. This is often the result of short-term thinking and poor planning, both of which are, in reality, under our control.
Vin Scully once said: “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost; for support, not illumination.”
Most the time, I believe that spin is really nothing more than lying and it comes in many forms. Some people exaggerate or stretch the truth to make something look more attractive. Others “spin the truth” by presenting “selected” facts that support their position. Withholding key facts is also lying. it’s clearly meant to deceive or manipulate and influence. Now, when you tell a lie, everything that you say in the future may be treated as suspect.
Today, as in the past, You’re often judged by the company you keep. When people cover for the spin or misinformation of others, they’re as guilty as those who created the “spin.” Remember, you are putting your own reputation and good name on the line if you cover for someone else. Is it worth it?
Keeping Your Promises or Commitments is an Action, People Always Look Most at Actions:
Always remember that actions speak louder than words. Historically, there was a time when keeping your word held special significance. Your word was your bond. But with the rise of self-exultation and excuses, there has been a diminishing of the popularity and reliability of this action in almost every human relationship and endeavor.
Being of good character was a thing to be proud of in the past and it needs to be revived today. Previously, personal integrity was trusted, expected and valued. During this time family was important, everyone knew each other’s family, and you wouldn’t do anything that would cast a shadow on your family’s good name. Today this has disappeared in many families.
It was also a time when integrity was instilled in kids at a very early age and was viewed as instrumental in achieving success. Schools could actually make a difference, kids would listen and respect teachers and teachers strove to inspire and excite kids. Actions & massive inaction speaks volumes in this arena today.
The real truth is, the world has changed, but the importance of integrity has not. Unfortunately, too many have expectations for everyone else demonstrate integrity but like to hide behind a shield of privacy so their integrity cannot be challenged. Politicians provide a perfect example of this behavior.
Every time you make a promise or commitment, you’re putting your integrity and honor on the line, whether you like it or not. In business, you are requesting that others place their trust in you because you value integrity and would never let them down.
It should go without saying that if you don’t live up to your promise or commitment you will wind up destroying your credibility, damaging your relationships, and tarnishing your reputation. The unseen damage is equally important, you let yourself down.
This summer we will be introducing a SaaS tool called PE-ER Solution that will allow you to ask for and give commitment requests and track the outcome for validation of performance. If you desire to really make a difference this tool will be helpful for those high visibility commitments and promises.
I would love to help you instill this in your company and make a cultural impact that demonstrates to all stakeholder that you are serious about keeping your promises and commitments. For more info, please visit my website at Transformative Leadership Group or call me to discuss at 630-454-4821.