Imagine a workplace where everyone decided ‘I am going to turn up to the 9.00am meeting at 8.55am, so that we can start on time’ and they all did. Imagine that the convenor of the meeting, who stated that the meeting would start at 9.00am and finish by 10.00am, did just that that. Imagine that all of the promises made by people you work with, including yourself ( ‘I will be there in 5 minutes’, ‘I will have that report to you by lunchtime’, ‘I will leave the office by 5.00pm’, ‘I will pick up some milk after work’) were actually met today. What impact would that have on you, your team and your business?
My assertion is that the impact on your business would be nothing short of phenomenal! The results for you and your team would be positive, and the results for your customers would be outstanding. So what would it take, for you and your team, to make this happen?
Quite simply, it would take responsibility to ensure that everything that you promised in the day was actually delivered. It would require you, in the moment, to make a conscious decision whether you could actually achieve what was about to be spoken to someone else. It would take a promise. It would take a hand on heart, nothing will stop me from achieving this, over the life of my children type of promise that ensured your absolute commitment to ensure that you will be your word. It is that simple.
So, what stops us, and others, from being this committed to being our word? One reason is not actually thinking about what we say as a promise. How many times have you uttered ‘I will just be a second’, ‘I will be 5 minutes’, and had no conscious thought to what that actually means? Last weekend I was in the car with my wife and children, and I needed to drop off a document to a colleague. As I left the car, I said ‘I will just be a minute’ to which my daughter said ‘No you won’t, you always take longer than you say’. I quickly replied ‘OK, I will be 3 minutes’ and left the car, a little annoyed that I had been taken to task. In what seemed like a flash, I returned to the car to three annoyed people. ‘You said you would take 3 minutes and it has been 7’ my two children said as a chorus.
On reflection, I realised that I and others use these throw away lines every day without thinking. ‘I have will the report to you by lunchtime’ is actually delivered at 2pm. ‘I will call you back this afternoon’ becomes a call the following morning (that you have told yourself is OK because it was too late to call after 5.30pm). Whether you realise it or not, what we say in the moment sets an expectation, an unwritten promise about what will take place and what will be done. Not meeting that expectation will be viewed as a broken promise – or to put it more accurately (and more harshly) – a lie. All of these little lies, most of which you could justify as small and inconsequential, add up to a pattern of behaviour that says you are unreliable, not worthy of trust and unable to live up to your word.
That is a big impact for what, for many of us, may be seen as a throw away line that wasn’t meant to be taken at face value. The problem is that our words have power, impact and influence others.
My response to the ‘little lies’ is completely hypocritical. I will justify my own little lies (‘It was only a couple of minutes late’, ‘She wouldn’t want a call this late in the day anyway’) and judge the lies of others (‘We said we would start this meeting at 9.00am and it is already 9.10am – this is such a waste of time’)
So what 3 simple things can you do to be your word and ensure that you keep all of those unwritten promises?
1. Listen for the throw away lines you say to others and correct them before they leave your mouth. ‘I will just be a minute’ can be changed to ‘I will be 5 minutes’, ‘I will be there at 9.00am’ if one minute is not enough. Why set up an unrealistic expectation?
2. Make every statement as if it was a promise that will not be broken. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you keep your word.
As an example, back to back meetings only exist because you let them. Advise the chair of the first meeting you MUST leave by 9.55am to make your next 10.00am meeting. Then do it. On the stroke of 9.55am. Not ‘just one minute’ or ‘they are almost finished’ or ‘what will they think if I leave?’. Set the expectation and stick to it.
3. Hold yourself and others to account for what is promised. If you have noticed that you were late or failed to meet a deadline, apologise for it, clarify what will happen next time, then move on. And ensure that you go back to Point 2 and do all that it takes to keep your promise next time.
The ‘little lies’ of not being you word has an enormous impact on you and your business. Broken promises destroy reputations of trust, lose work and cost thousands of hours in wasted time. Start being as judgemental on your lies as you are on others, and stop justifying those little lies to yourself and others. Your team, your customers and your word will be grateful that you did.