When was the last time you said you would do something, and then didn’t do it? Be it returning someone’s call by the end of the day or sending out a project proposal. Not too long ago, right?

Why does this happen? For starters, we don’t want to disappoint people. So, we tell them what they want to hear. Since saying ‘no’ is hard, we overcommit. We miscalculate how much time/ energy a task might take. And when along with these tasks, we realize that the routine demands of everyday life need to be met, we reschedule or cancel things altogether.

Though, at a high cost. Not following through leads to mistrust and a lack of credibility. Stephen Covey in his book Speed of Trust says, “when you fail to fulfill commitments that you freely make, trust is not the result.” Another flip side, changing plans undermines our self-confidence and induces guilt.

Then, how do we prevent this chain of events?

  1. Track your key commitments. Promises float around. Who keeps track of them? If you are in a leadership position, this could be hard. Start by making a list of the people you depend on, and the people who depend on you. Then, for each relationship, list your key commitments. For example: “I will provide my team with the inputs they need, every Monday.” Or “I will keep my Sunday evenings for planning.” Software tools can help here. It might feel laborious at first but having a single view of all that you have to do is illuminating.
  2. Ask for a real commitment. Given that people commit to things out of pressure or guilt, how can we create spaces where people can choose what they want to say ‘yes’ to? Because if we don’t willingly choose, there is no execution. As a first step, specify what you need from someone. And then ask them if it is truly possible to deliver on that. If you corner people into making false declarations, you won’t get ownership.
  3. Connect the dots between people. If someone is accountable to you for something, chances are that they are accountable to others too. And you have to factor that in. When we focus narrowly on what we “own,” we focus less on the bigger picture, or the overall life of the other individual. Even on their interdependencies. All these have ripple effects. So, ask, “What else is important during this time, that would aid or hinder you from delivering on this commitment?” Think of how you can create room for it all.

Having read this, what did you realize about how you deliver on your commitments? If you are someone who struggles to say no, here is how to do so gently. And if you are someone who feels disappointed by your inability to meet commitments, ask if you set unrealistic expectations. You’ll soon learn to set and meet them well.

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