Breaking promises is just one form of dishonesty. Recognizing that fact can help us realign our behavior to with integrity.
Here are Gary Ryan Blair’s five tips for keeping promises.
All Commitments and All Promises are Important
Parents want to be the good guy. They tell their children that if X happens, Y will follow. But when X happens, Y is no where to be seen. They give two, three, four, endless chances and do overs. The reward is always given — even if the desired behavior happened late or partially or even not at all. The punishment was never meted out — even if the undesirable behavior was in full throttle.
Parents who do this teach their kids some poor lessons. Two of which are:
- I get what I want, no matter what I do.
- My parents are liars.
When I was a teen, I used to babysit for a couple with three children. As they left for the night, they would tell me when to feed the kids and when to put them to bed. They told their kids they needed to mind me and behave themselves.
At the appointed times, I dutifully took the children to their rooms and tucked them in. What followed — every single time — was endless hours of bathroom breaks, drinks, sneaking up to play, talking to siblings, demands about night lights, and complaining about how far the bedroom door had been left open.
When the parents got home the kids were always still awake, no matter how late it was. What followed — every single time — was a reward from the parents. Sometimes they got to accompany me on the ride home, sometimes they went out for ice cream. Really.
They parents expressed expectations that they really had no intention of enforcing. The kids knew it and I paid the price in long, frustrating nights for 50¢ an hour.
Make Commitments Slowly and Be Careful What You Agree To
Years ago I served as president of the women’s organization at my church. As a volunteer leader, trying to manage multiple programs, I depended on those around me to follow through with their commitments. When they did so, the organization ran smoothly. When they didn’t, everything could grind to a halt.
I learned an important lesson about human behavior. People hate to say no to your face, but have no problem at all saying no behind your back.
When asked to help with visits, planning, teaching, or just about anything, I only had one solitary woman ever turn me down the entire time I served. But over that same time, I had myriad women who made verbal commitments fall through on their promised action.
As a leader, I’d much rather have someone tell me no than have them tell me yes and break the promise. The former means I have to keep looking. The latter means I’m left in the lurch when an assignment is not completed.
Manage Your Commitments
That same week we attended our new church right by our lot and began to meet our soon-to-be new neighbors. One boy who was Caleb’s age — who lived on the same street we were building on — invited him to his birthday party. Such excitement! Until I completely flaked and forgot all about it.
Not only did I deal with one sad little boy who had so looked forward to playing with new friends, but I also made a very poor impression on our new neighbors by RSVPing positively and then not showing up. And I’m kind of opinionated about RSVPs.
Managing your commitments is all about reputation and integrity. If you say you’ll do something, do it. Period. If you might not do it, say so up front.
In my case, it wasn’t because I made light of things I committed to, but that the maelstrom caused by our situation meant that I needed to be much more rigorous about calendaring and organization.
Whatever your particular situation, make sure you have the systems in place to manage your commitments so that you don’t wind up making a mess for yourself to clean up later.
Renegotiate When You Are Unable to Keep Your Commitment
If you are careful about the commitments you make and manage them appropriately, you won’t often find yourself flaking out and failing to perform. But even with the best intentions and planning, sometimes unanticipated events make it impossible to complete the mission at hand.
In cases like these, the very best course of action is to contact the other party — as soon as the problem is detected — and renegotiate terms. Discuss — with the transparency politicians promise but don’t deliver on — the actual situation, barriers to completion, what you can do, and how you can make the best of a bad situation.
When we built the house and our general contractor missed deadline after deadline, we were always the ones leaving voice male and text messages trying to find out what in the world was going on. No matter what, the delays would have been frustrating and costly, but when our general was also unresponsive and not forthcoming, it added heaps of discontent to the process.
At least some of the problems would have been alleviated if the builder had taken the time to keep us informed of progress and delays, rather than just leaving us to our own devices — and without a place to live.
Manage By Agreement
What about when the shoe is on the other foot? How do you encourage others to take their commitments to you seriously?
One great method is to manage promises by agreement. Instead of telling other what they need to do, ask them if they are willing to take on a responsibility and wait for an affirmative response before moving forward.
As outlined above, this doesn’t always work. I get that. But it’s just human nature that people will tend to be more committed if they feel like that had a choice in the matter.
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