Success through Rigor, Clarity and Responsibility

I received a few reactions to last week’s blog about not expecting what you haven’t been explicitly promised. Explicitly being the key word here. One of the comments said: “How do you deal with situations where someone promises you something, you expect it and it doesn’t happen?

The dynamic of people requesting and promising is often not as clear-cut and straightforward as people think, expect and describe it to be. In fact, it is rife with pitfalls, misunderstandings, and upsets. I have learned from experience that when disappointed people describe breakdowns as: “They promised and didn’t deliver!” there is almost always more to the story than that.

I want to share a few basic tips that may help you navigate this area more effectively:

1. Be committed to rigor and clarity. It will prevent misunderstanding:

I have seen so many times, in situations of conflict or dispute, person A insisting that person B promised to do or deliver something and simply not doing so, while person B denies that they ever made the promise in the first place.

Both sides feel resentful. Each side believes their version of the story represents the facts and truth. However, in many cases when both parties stepped back, looked under the hood and tried to view the situation objectively they realized that not bad faith or bad intent caused their heartache, but rather the lack of rigor and clarity in their initial interaction.

When requesting or promising there are three potential places where things could go wrong:

  1. What you are asking or what you are promising is not clear enough and not understood and agreed to in the same way by both sides. Often, instead of spelling it out people assume the other person knows exactly what they are asking or promising. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen that approach leading to misunderstanding and disappointment.
  1. The time frame of the promise is not clear. For example, a manager asks for a promotion, more resources or more budget for a strategic project, and his or her superior commends the effort and promises to make it happen “Sometime in the near future”. The manager leaves the exchange feeling excited and confident they will get what they have requested in the next thirty to sixty days and when it happens after six months he or she feel resentful that the promise was not met. Again, I have seen these types of misunderstandings many times.
  1. The level of sincerity and intent of the promise is not explicit. When you make a request and someone responses with “I’ll do my best” or “I don’t see any reason why not” don’t make the mistake of taking that as a promise. A promise is clear, explicit and unconditional. This doesn’t mean that a promise is a guarantee and therefore will always be fulfilled. However, when someone says: “I promise,” “You can count on me” or “You have my word” that represents a much stronger, sincerer and more committed intention to do what they said. People often avoid this level of clarity because it is uncomfortable and they fear it could lead to the realization that they may not get what they want.

2, Check-in, follow up and support the promise while it is being delivered:

When someone promises you something and they are in the process of working on it, your job is not over. You want to stay engaged and involved throughout the duration of the delivery cycle as a committed and vested partner in order to keep the promise alive. This interaction will look different depending on the nature of the promise and person you are dealing with. Sometimes it may mean checking in on a frequent basis. At other times, it may mean looking the person in the eye at the onset to get a sense of confidence that they really mean it, got it and will follow through.

Again, people avoid this type of interaction because it is disruptive and uncomfortable. They fear it could lead to the realization that they may not get what they want.

3. Manage undelivered promises with integrity:

No matter how sincere the promise, it is never a guarantee. Things happen and people who promise sometimes fail to deliver or change their mind. If you understand and accept that simple fact, you will be in a much better place to deal with promises.

The good news is that for the most part, people know ahead of the deadline when they are not going to deliver what they had promised. But unfortunately, people seem to have no problem not doing what they said, they typically just have a problem being upfront about it ahead of time.

The deficit in courage to acknowledge and take responsibility for promises that are not going to be delivered often goes both ways – to the one promising and the one being promised to.

Have you ever been in a situation in which someone promised you something, you had a feeling they may not come through, and still you avoided confronting them about it?

Regardless of position and role; whether you are the boss, a peer or a subordinate – if you are not going to deliver on your promise, letting others find out at the last minute and be surprised is not acceptable. It undermines trust, credibility, team confidence, team strength, and success.

If you can’t deliver what you promised, communicate in a timely and responsible manner. Then the two of you – together – can figure out alternative solutions and routes to rectify the situation or take a different course.

People want to fulfill their commitments and succeed, but they also can handle the truth, even if it is unpleasant. By interacting with rigor, clarity, courage, and responsibility you are giving respect, enabling success and fostering personal growth.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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