Why You Need To Think Twice Before Making Promises

Have you ever done any of the following?

· Said to someone “Let’s do lunch” and never set it up?

· Promised to have something done by a certain time but didn’t meet the deadline?

· Said you’d take a look at something for a colleague but never got around to it?

I know I have and I know I am not alone. 

Since the New Year is upon us I have been thinking about things I would like to be better at, and this intrigues me.

It intrigues me because not fulfilling promises like these chips away at trust. 

Not fulfilling promises chips away at our personal brand.

We’re good people, right?

Most of us would consider ourselves trustworthy. We don’t steal from retail stores, we pay our bills, we even put out the neighbour’s trash while they’re away. We’re good people, right? So what’s the big deal about a couple promises that we don’t follow up on? There’s only so much time and we were being polite.

Besides, we have good intentions when we make these types of promises, right? True, but we also have some issue in our mind that we're ignoring, says psychologist Dr. Melissa Ritter. Usually it's a doubt, some fear or even anger. It could be about the demands on your time.  It could be about your belief as to how well you might do something, or your resentment that you have to do it. These things catch up to us. 

While a few broken promises may seem like no big deal, if they impact how people trust you, that’s not good. 

Another reason we break some promises (notice I said some) is because people let us get away with it. Very few people will call us on the little things we say we’ll do and then don’t. But they’re thinking it, i.e., Paul always says, “let’s have lunch” and never sets it up. "What else is he not trustworthy about?”

There is one group of people who do tell us when we haven’t lived up to our promises: kids. Make even the slightest suggestion to a child that you’ll do something for them and they’ll never let you forget it. “You said you would!” they remind you. 

It shows that even from a very young age, trust is one of those things that you shouldn’t mess with. 

By the way, I am not saying that people spend a lot of time thinking about you to come to a conclusion about your trustworthiness. That’s just it – they don’t. 

In a few seconds, people file away what they think about you so they know what to expect from to you in the future. 

Where’s my swing set?

After buying our last house, my wife and I wanted to put one of those large playhouse / swing sets in the back yard. I’m sure you’ve seen them around -  the big wooden beams, a play house/ fort, a colourful slide and at least three swings.

We had visions of our kids spending countless hours on those swings. Far away and yet close enough to be in eyeshot while we sipped lemonade (Sauvignon Blanc, I believe). 

So I did my research and found a company that sold those great swing sets / playhouses. Turn outs they were a bit out of the city. We made the drive up and went in their amazing showroom, filled with dozens of playhouse and swing sets. We ordered one including delivery because the whole thing was too big to fit in the car. 

I was going to have to put this thing together so I put some time aside on the day it was to arrive. Trouble is, it didn’t come. It turns out the driver didn’t have time to get to our house that day. And they wouldn’t be delivering into the city for a few more days. I wasn’t happy.

They gave me a new date and again I put some time aside to receive it. Guess what? Same thing - it didn’t show up. They called and said “next time we’re coming into the city, don’t worry”. Now my trust was disappearing fast. 

As you can imagine, by the time the drivers showed up over a week or so later, I really wasn’t happy. Had it been any other item, I would have sent it back. When I mentioned my dissatisfaction to the driver, he sluffed me off. He said, “Well, that’s the way it is, we only come to the city so often”. No apology. 

I called the office to complain and got a promise to receive a few extra parts. The parts never came and I never heard from the company again. 

It’s been over 5 years and it still makes me furious. Trust destroyed. It’s all I can do here not to write their name in big upper case letters.

YOU are your promises

I suppose it’s one thing when our trust is broken during transactions involving money, but consider this kind of scenario involving promises made to people. Think about it like you are your brand and everything you do creates an impression. 

How often can you break promises before people start not trusting the brand of you? 

It varies I'm sure, but everyone has his or her limit.

So what can you do?

The answer is simple: be realistic about what you say you‘ll do for people.

Although from what I have learned, this is easier said than done in the heat of the promise-making-moment.

Getting back to Dr. Ritter, she says that often when we make these promises, we have good intentions. We're trying to be good people. But what we’re really doing is trying to live up to an impression we have of ourselves and what helpful people like us should do. We don’t believe deep down that we'll follow through on what we say we’ll do.


three things to remember:

1) Remember that every promise you make (no matter how small) is a reflection of who you are. 

2) The way we communicate today allows us to make promises without looking someone in the eye. This makes it easier not to follow through. 

3) Keep in mind that people remember. They might not say it like kids do, but they remember. 

As the saying goes, an apology might get you forgiveness but it won’t make people forget.

Here are some benefits to not damaging your trust.

1) People will come to you knowing that you will do what you will say you will. You will be dependable and people love people who are dependable. 

2) More opportunities will come your way because people know you’re a straight shooter.

3) Your reputation as being trustworthy will grow your personal brand.

Becoming trustworthy will also help develop collaboration and break down the silos in your workplace. (Read my post about breaking down silos here). The more people trust who you are, the more they will share with you and want to work with you. 

People in organizations where there is trust can achieve great things. I have seen this many times in my collaboration workshops. And this is with people who are participating in an activity that is foreign to them. 

I find they display a certain freedom in being their true selves. I notice they’re not afraid to take risks because they trust the people around them. You can see the support that they offer to each other. 

So are you ready to join me in 2017 in the quest to being a little more trustworthy? 

I think I can do it. 

And if I don't, please let me know.

Now, who wants to go for coffee? My treat, I promise.