Betty is one of my favorite people. She’s loyal to the core and she has a heart of gold. A couple of months ago we were wrapping up a conversation and she ended it by saying, “I’ll be back in town on the 11th. I’ll call you and we’ll go out for dinner.”
After I hung up the phone, my imagination took me to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. I could smell the Mexican food in the air, and my lips could almost taste the sweet sangria. Hmm…what a delightful evening it would be.
And then something snapped me back to reality. “What the heck am I thinking,” I thought to myself. I know better than to get my hopes up. Chances are, it’s not going to happen. I can’t count the number of times this has happened before. And in reality, it has been about a year since we’ve gone out to dinner together. So, to protect myself from one more disappointment, I simply let the empty promise go in one ear and out the other.
It’s not that Betty doesn’t have good intentions in the moment, it’s that she has a flaky habit of not doing what she says she’s going to do. It can be an annoying, but generally, I just manage my expectations of her accordingly. I can’t help but wonder though…how might this habit be eating away at her other personal and professional relationships? Not everyone is quick to forgive so easily.
Sometimes it seems like we’ve all joined the vogue, Hollywood “Let’s do lunch” club. We’ve become so conditioned to casual, meaningless, commitments that we’re pleasantly surprised when someone actually follows through.
You know, I think we forget the power of our own words. When we use our words mindlessly, we sabotage our own credibility and relationships. But when we are mindful about following through with what we say, people think of us as dependable and trustworthy.
Incidentally, did you realize that our brains are wired to automatically create new habits? For example, when our brain hears “commitment” it starts looking for the response we use most often. If we typically don’t keep our commitments, then the default response for our brain becomes “let yourself off the hook”. And without even consciously thinking about it, we have a new habit…and a flaky one at that.
Did you know you could you be a flaky promise keeper and not even know it? Scary isn’t it? Once your brain connects your habit patterns, (think connect the dots), it automatically triggers your first reaction. In this case, “let yourself off the hook” becomes your first reaction to “commitment”. Eventually, the habit gets so ingrained that you become less aware of the importance of doing what you say you’ll do. It’s a viscous cycle.
Remember, we don’t see ourselves how other people see us. And if by chance you’ve picked up this flaky little habit, it’s likely that empty promises have left at least a few people disappointed and resentful. Perhaps you’ve even disappointed yourself.
Do you know for sure if your relationships are suffering because of broken promises? Or do you just assume that no news is good news?
Do you care enough to muster the courage to ask? If you do, here’s a simple little email process you can use:
1. Begin your email with a short paragraph that explains what you’re doing.
- Example: Our relationship matters to me and I’d like to get your honest feedback on how I’m doing. In this case, I’d like to know how reliable I am in keeping my word to you.
2. Ask for what you want, and be as specific as possible.
- Example: Will you please take a few minutes to think about promises and commitments I’ve made to you? If so, just complete the sentences below and return your answers to me by the end of the week. Feel free to complete each sentence multiple times, based on different scenarios. I’d like to get a clear understanding of what you’re thinking.
3. Create a list of 3 – 5 open-ended (incomplete) sentences.
I know that you’ll keep your word to me when…
I know that you might keep your word to me when…
I want you to keep your word to me more often when…
4. Close the email with an advance thank you and send individually (not a distribution list) to the important people (personal and professional) in your life.
5. Plan some sort of extra special “thank you” for those who respond.
Keep in mind that most people aren’t comfortable giving feedback, and typically, only a few will respond. Even so, a few responses are usually enough to get a feel for how you’re doing. And regardless of what you discover, at least you’ll know for sure.
Give it a try and let me know how you do!