Broken promises are one of the biggest mistakes that one can make in their career. Broken promises are a problem because:
- Broken promises diminish the value of your word. People want to count on you when you’ll say you do something. If you regularly drop the ball people will rely on you less. Your reputation becomes one of a partial contributor and you will not be offered opportunities.
- Broken promises decrease your ability to work for and with others. If you regularly break your promises people will not want to have you on projects, teams, and committees. And, if you’re not on one of those, you’re not working and will soon be out of that job. You may be out of any job that requires responsibility and contribution.
- Broken promises lessen our own self esteem. We don’t know why we don’t come through on our commitments sometime. Still, knowing that we’re not holding up our end of a deal whacks our own integrity.
Do you sit in a meeting and take action items then complete only some of them? Do you promise someone in your family that you will be at a game, dinner, or meeting and fail to show up on time? Do you say, “OK, I owe you that,” and inconsistently deliver? Do you miss deadlines? If you said yes to any of these questions, you are breaking promises. And the straight talk on this topic is: you need to stop breaking promises because it’s hurting your reputation and prospects for the future.
Here are four ways to start building a reputation for reliability, delivery, and contribution:
- Don’t forget the things that you promise to do. The #1 way to do this is write it down! When you take action items voluntarily or are assigned them, put them on a list. This keeps the specifics of your responsibilities in one place. And, it keeps them out of your mind where you might forget it or it might be overpowered by something urgent or fun.
- You should clarify what is expected of you. Ensure that you and those you work with are synchronized. Match what you believe you’re supposed to be doing with the expectations the other person or people have. Get confirmation in writing. An example of this is writing a summary of a meeting which identifies the action items you are to take and stating: If there is something that you anticipate me doing that isn’t on this list, please reply and let me know right away so I can be sure to do the right thing.
- Take on less. The adage we use in sales is “Under Promise, Over Deliver”. There will always be more things for you to do than you can possibly attend to. Do only those things that are of highest importance and be clear that you won’t be doing the rest. Get agreement on what those vital activities are.
- Use ‘As Promised’ in your communications. When writing follow-up emails or talking to people state specifically that you are delivering on your commitment. For example, say, “We discussed the trigger list for creating your list of things to do. As promised I’m sending the list to you attached to this email.”
- If you might miss a deadline or have to stop one project to give attention to another, renegotiate. You will need diplomacy and tact to deliver your message and get agreement that things have changed. Yet, you will get credit for integrity and keeping your eye on the ball.