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How to Cope When You Fail to Honor a Commitment

How to Cope When You Fail to Honor a Commitment

There was a time when you had a pristine reputation. You delivered on everything that was expected of you, and you basked in the warm approval of all who knew you. And then it happened—you had a diaper blow-out all over Daddy. Commitment level: fail.

Even as a baby, you were making commitments and sometimes you just didn’t deliver. Back in the day, your sole commitment was to be cute and adorable, but sometimes you opted to be cranky and needy instead. Forgiving folks put up with it but their standards for your performance would not remain so low.

As you got older, you were introduced to promises. We all learned funny little rituals to validate a promise; stuff like “cross my heart and hope to die”. Even our rituals contained the seeds of disingenuous-ness: I doubt we really hoped to die if we failed to keep our promises.

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    The Real World: Adult Version

    As adults, commitments start to get more serious, and the failure to keep some promises comes with teeth or clauses to punish us or compensate the other party if we don’t make good on our word. In a litigious society, that same blaming and fault-finding attitude seems to apply even to more informal commitments. Punishment and consequences are a hard reality if we don’t deliver on our agreements.

    There are several  ways we can get caught over-promising: perhaps you didn’t think things through or you forgot about your preexisting commitments. It’s frustrating to find yourself over-committed, and the response is often to just try to power through, but that can leave us stressed and can make for a performance that doesn’t live up to anyone’s expectations, including our own.

    Another thing that can happen is you just screwed up—you made a commitment you had no business making—so again, you deliver some lousy outcome or you don’t deliver at all.

    Finally, there are times when, through no fault of your own, you just can’t do what you said you would do. There’s a traffic jam, the store was out of stock when you went, or someone else failed to deliver on a commitment to you that impacted your promises. So what can you do to avoid these situations?

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    Nothing. You can’t avoid these situations.

    Wait a minute, I thought this article was supposed to help me with this problem. Where is the sage advice I can apply so that I will never fail to honor a commitment again?

    Don’t worry, I will indeed tell you how to honor all of your commitments from this point forward. What I can’t stop you from doing is over-committing, screwing up, and being at the mercy of others. Those things will continue to happen. And yet, even with this landscape, you can still honor every commitment you ever make, including the ones you have already made that you are so hoping you can find a way to fulfill.

    Is Keeping My Word Enough?

    The key is in the word “honor”. There are commitments you are not going to keep no matter how hard you try, but even if you fail to keep them, you can still honor them. How do you do this?

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    The difference between “keeping” and “honoring” is key: keeping a promise is about the letter of the promise, while honoring a promise is about the spirit. It is even possible to keep a promise while not honoring it. People will forgive an honored but un-kept promise, but it takes a real saint to let go of an un-honored promise—kept or not.

    So what are the practical aspects of honoring a commitment? They are:

    • respect
    • communication
    • productive effort

    First, let’s consider respect. Respect for what? For the other person, for yourself, and for your word. It means doing what they expect, not just what you can get away with or argue is what you meant. It means not looking for shortcuts or half-measures to apply after the fact.

    Next, there is communication. It’s best if you do a good job with your communication up front to ensure that there are no misunderstandings, but even in a case where the commitment has already been made, communication will make all the difference. If you know you are not going to meet expectations, the time to say so is not after you fail but as soon as you know. It goes a long way to say, “I know I said I would be done by next Tuesday, but it looks like it will be more like Thursday at this point.” It may not be exactly what they want to hear but it shows you honor your commitment by giving voice to any approaching failure.

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    Finally, you have to give it your best shot, and if possible, that should be obvious to others. If you do this, it’s easier for everyone to accept if something goes awry.

    Time For Some Practical Application

    So let’s say you have done your best, you have respected everyone and everything, you have been open and transparent, and you have worked your heart out, but this time it isn’t going to happen—you just can’t keep your commitment. This is the moment of truth.

    You do not have to fail in honoring your commitment even now. To honor it you must take responsibility. Note I said take, not merely accept. Go first. Lay bare the unfinished business, and if it is now impossible to deliver, own that fact. If possibilities remain, recommit yourself to something you are prepared to keep, and then honor that new commitment.

    It’s uncomfortable to take responsibility, but discomfort is a lot easier to shoulder than disrespect or disappointment. Even if you failed to honor a commitment up until now, it is not too late: disrespect and disappointment can be rolled back or even erased in the face of genuine honor. Anyway, comfort isn’t truly all that comfortable in the face of disrespect; just ask any disrespected person—they can tell you as much. So, snatch honor from the jaws of failure. You can’t keep every commitment, you can but make sure you honor every single one.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2019

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

    In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Step right up, don’t be shy!

    Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

    The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

    Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

    Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
    So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

    A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

    Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

    Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

    When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

    Culturally Conditioned

    We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

    I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

    The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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    Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

    Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

    Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

    1. Broadens Your Network

    After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

    2. Improves Your Communication Skills

    I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

    Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

    3. Continually Learning

    So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

    Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

    4. Increases Self Confidence

    Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

    Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

    So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

    How to Talk to Strangers

    Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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    1. Say Hello

    Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

    Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

    Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

    2. Ask About Them

    Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

    You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

    As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

    3. Just Do It

    One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

    When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

    Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

    4. Don’t Take It Personal

    One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

    When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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    5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

    I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

    One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

    6. Detach

    A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

    Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

    7. Share Your Stories

    Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

    To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

    So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

    8. Give a Compliment

    Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

    When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

    9. Relax Your Body Language

    If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

    When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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    If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

    10. Practice, Practice, Practice

    Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

    Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

    After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

    The Bottom Line

    As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

    There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

    Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

    Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

    More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Reference

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