Keeping Commitments – to Others

Our previous article addressed Keeping Commitments to Yourself, and next month’s issue will focus on Breaking Commitments – Making the Best of a Miss.

How well you keep your commitments to others defines who you are to them. Keeping commitments builds trust; not keeping commitments breaks trust. Are you someone who can be counted on? Or has your reputation suffered because of breaking commitments?

Though many people distinguish between commitments that “count” and those that don’t, it’s guaranteed that if you don’t keep commitments in one area of your life, it shows up in other areas as well.

Whether in business or in your personal life, the commitments you make and keep define you. Business examples include:

  • Delivering on time
  • Not over-promising
  • Maintaining the agreed upon standard of quality
  • Meeting payment terms

Personal examples might include variations of the above, as well as:

  • Showing up on time and being present
  • Keeping marriage vows
  • “Being There” for the friends and family for whom you’ve promised that.

All of us feel pressured on a daily basis to make commitments. How carefully do you consider your ability to meet a commitment before making it? Do you inform the other party of any conditions surrounding your commitment?

When is a time when you’ve had a commitment broken to you? What was the result? Do you still trust that person, or do you put safeguards in to protect yourself now? When someone breaks trust, there is a tendency to discount all future communications from that person. Because if what they said was untrue once, apparently that’s OK in their book. Some people go so far as to not communicate further with a commitment-breaker, as they see no point in having a conversation with someone who doesn’t tell the truth, or only tells the truth sometimes. It’s too much effort to discern when they’re keeping their commitments and when they aren’t.

I know a coach who ended a relationship with a client because the client had promised payment and broke the agreement repeatedly. While the client did eventually pay, the trust was broken and the coach no longer felt able to believe what the client said in other arenas, not just with respect to financial agreements. The client was able to see this as a wake-up call, worked diligently at improving his ability to keep commitments, and was able to salvage the relationship.

A couple make the commitment to marry. The husband stands by and watches as his wife’s former partner tries to come back in her life and offers everything from financial independence to undying romance. He watches his wife keep his commitment to him, despite a severe test. The marriage just took a huge leap forward in trust and solidity.

So what’s the best way to keep commitments? For avoiding commitments surely is not the answer; making commitments is how we move things forward, and build relationships.

  1. Resist the urge to immediately make a commitment if you’re unsure you can keep it. Make a commitment with conditions that address the unknown or specify a later parameter for making a firm commitment. Affirm with the other party that the conditions are understood.
  2. Check in and communicate often about the commitments you’ve made. If something looks like it will slip, let the other party know about it sooner rather than later.
  3. Plan. Use a time management system to know what commitments you have coming up when, and what advance actions are necessary to fulfill them.
  4. If you must break a commitment, admit it, and take steps to ameliorate the damage. Communicate with the other party, ask them how it can be made right, and be willing to take those steps. Sincerely apologize. Be careful not to let this become a pattern, or your commitments will not be taken seriously in the future.

Keeping commitments is a challenge for everyone, and everyone breaks their commitments from time to time. Our next issue will address how to stay in integrity when you must break a commitment. But being conscious about how you make commitments and being diligent about keeping them – large and small – is a practice that will strengthen your integrity and your confidence about your place in the world.

Leading Change Luncheon

For those of you in Durango, Vectra Bank is sponsoring a complimentary luncheon on September 18, where I will be speaking on the topic of Leading and Managing Change – a constant challenge for all of us. Space is limited; please call Katherine McClenny at Vectra (247-4183) to reserve your space.

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