What is the value of a promise? It is a question that preoccupies lawyers and ethicists. Do you think you should keep a verbal promise in business? The corporate world is all about making money. If a promise gets in the way of profit, shouldn’t it be discarded? Some executives would argue yes, others will point out that if you get a bad reputation people will be reluctant to deal with you. Clients and customers won’t return if they know you make empty promises.
On a personal level people make promises all the time. ‘I’ll pick you up at 6pm.’ ‘I’ll remember to buy milk.’ But how often do we actually deliver and how often do we backtrack? How do you behave when you break a promise?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a promise is a declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen. What happens when we break a promise to our children, our spouse or our work colleagues? What does it communicate to the other party? It basically says that we don’t really care about our children, spouse or colleagues. We have more important things to attend to. They are not at the top of our list of priorities. If we constantly break promises the people around us will soon learn that we are not to be counted on. We are not ethical people.
How do you rate yourself?
And if we stopped and thought about it, how would we rate ourselves? We are telling ourselves that our word is worthless. We think it is okay to disrespect others and ultimately that says something about who we are. At the end of the day, if you have become a person of empty promises you are disrespecting yourself.
The lesson to be learned here is that we should only make promises we are capable of keeping. To do this you need to examine when and why you make promises. Are you someone who struggles to stand up for yourself? Do you hate conflict? Is it easier to say yes at the time and then wiggle out of your commitment later? Do you make promises so you appear to be generous and big-hearted, but you can’t actually be bothered following through on the request? Are your intentions good at the time, but later you don’t have the energy or motivation to deliver?
You need to answer these questions honestly. What are you getting out of these promises? If the answer is nothing – they are only a burden, then it is time for you to make few promises.
You need to be realistic about your workload. What have you got planned for the week? It is better to offer less and deliver more than get the reputation that you are a promise breaker, a man or woman of empty words.
You need to have honest conversations with people about what they request of you. Say simply, sorry I don’t know if that will be possible. I’m not sure I can do that. It is better to be upfront that let people down later. Limit other people’s expectations of you. Tell your work colleague you can’t give them that lift because you have to drop your own kids at school. People respect others who tell the truth, even if they are refusing to be helpful.
What happens when you need to break a promise? First make sure that you have a genuine reason for failing the person you promised. ‘I don’t feel like it’ is not good enough. Contact the person as soon as possible and explain why you can’t come through. ‘Sorry but I can’t make dinner with you, because I have a parent admitted to hospital and I need to visit them.’ People are usually understanding if you explain why you are breaking the promise.
I am sure at one point in your life you have said, ‘I will love you forever’, ‘we will always be friends’, or ‘I will care for you forever’ and then there comes a time when we know you have made a promise you cannot keep however at the time you meant it. We didn’t foresee circumstances changing. Feelings and circumstances change. Life variables influence our feelings. We experience death, lose our jobs, have children, experience personal crisis, get sick.
So before making a romantic promise stop and consider the possibility that major challenges will come your way and you will face doubts, anger and fears. When we are in love or even in strong like with a new friend, it is hard to consider that life may one day go wrong. Unfortunately it does. If you have some doubts about a relationship or friendship don’t shut them away in your subconscious but take them out and examine them – face them. It’s better to do it now than later.
It is not very romantic but I think every engaged couple should talk about what they would want if the marriage ended. Do they want open, honest communication? Do they envisage shared custody of their children? This is incredibly difficult, but have that conversation before making the forever promise, and write down what you want from each other because when relationships end people aren’t usually rational or clear thinking.
The truth is you have a better chance of keeping a promise if you know who you are and what you are capable of when you make it. Think long and hard before committing to promises – both big and small promises. Good luck!
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ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.