We make commitments to others and ourselves all the time. The question is: Do we keep them?

When we fail to keep a promise, it communicates to the other person that we don’t value him or her. We have elected to place something else ahead of our commitment. This can result in an erosion of trust in our relationships.

More importantly, we are telling ourselves that we don’t value our own word. Not keeping a promise to yourself is the same as disrespecting yourself. Eventually, it can harm our self-esteem, confidence, and experience of life.

Make it concrete

Make sure that are certain that you will be able to do something before you commit to it. Then be clear on the expectation, action, or result that is agreed to. Then set a firm deadline. Firm promises that are set in stone are more likely to be kept. Never make a promise that you are not sure you can keep.

Get it in writing

Businesses and professionals most often get themselves into trouble when they have made a verbal agreement. The difficulty with verbal agreements is that they are often vague and tend to be perceived differently by both parties. You may not even agree when a promise or agreement unfulfilled, because you have differing views on what precisely was promised.

Memories are faulty, perception is skewed, and wording tends to be unclear. Make it a practice to get professional agreements in writing. This makes is much easier for both parties to keep their word. When both parties are very clear on what is expected; it is more likely that agreements will be upheld.

Small promises count

People often dismiss small promises as unimportant, but that is just not true. You don’t call back when you say you will, you don’t repay a loan that’s outstanding, or maybe it just doesn’t seem important to keep a confidence. If you fail to take the minor promises seriously, you destroy trust and damage your reputation.

Failing to keep these small promises gives the appearance of being disorganized and irresponsible. You make the other person feel dismissed and unimportant. Conversely, you can build trust by demonstrating that you keep your word even on seemingly inconsequential things.

Perhaps even more important, when people realize that you consistently keep smaller promises, they will reasonably believe that you can keep your word on important things. This will actually help build your reputation as a trustworthy person.

Do it anyway

Don’t rationalize or make excuses for yourself. Push yourself a bit, work a little longer, sacrifice something else, persist, and persevere, despite what it costs you. Both the external and internal cost of failing will be much higher.

Following through on a difficult promise not only gives you satisfaction, but also raises the level of respect you receive from others. If you truly want to be successful in life, have high quality relationships, and advance your career or business, hold promises as sacred agreements, don’t miss deadlines, and make a practice to follow through on your commitments. Don’t make excuses.

That said, on rare occasions something truly unavoidable prevents you from making a deadline or keeping a promise. When this happens, ask to alter the promise or be released from the agreement. Most people will understand if you have consistently kept your promises in the past.

Expect the same of others

Most often, people will keep their word. You should expect the best of people and give them your trust until they prove they are not worthy of it. Don’t make the mistake of taking agreements you make with others lightly. Be clear about what they are promising, and then hold them to it.

However, when someone fails to keep their word, don’t excuse them. Be clear and honest in your disappointment. Remind them of their broken promise and let them know how failure to act on their part has inconvenienced you, cost you, hurt you, or let you down.

When this happens, don’t expect them to keep their promise in the future. Trust once damaged, must be earned again. Be sure to surround yourself with those types of people that you can depend on. Then you can be relatively confident they will follow through on their promises and you don’t need to check up on them.

(Photo credit: Child with raised hand making a promise via Shutterstock)

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