My word is my bond

Just because you don’t happen to believe in something doesn’t mean that it’s not important. The Native Americans didn’t believe in the concept of land ownership, but the importance of this concept to the Europeans encroaching on their territories proved catastrophic for their civilisation. If you see casual promises as figures of speech you can’t assume that others won’t see them as binding.

Talk can be cheap and people often make casual promises without the genuine intent one might assume. ‘I will call you tomorrow’ can often be translated as ‘I will make an effort to call you tomorrow’, ‘I will call tomorrow if I’m free’ or ‘I will call very soon’. Promises are often ideal-world goals, not necessarily realistic expectations. They are not made with the same gravitas as they are only made verbally.

Though a verbal promise or handshake may not carry the same weight with everyone as it did in the Middle Ages, it does not necessarily follow that all individuals you encounter will have a relaxed and forgiving attitude to ‘promises’ made to them. Though you may mean a promise to call tomorrow as an intention to make contact soon, other people will hold you to it and people will hold you responsible if you break it.

In the eyes of others you have made an obligation and therefore put your reputation on the line. Something you may view as trivial and commonplace may be viewed by others as lying and outright bad practice. We pay a lot of attention to actions but words are incredibly powerful and if you fail to keep your word it can be seen as unethical behaviour. Given the importance of a client or customers perception of you, this is not a tag you want attached to yourself.

Perhaps I’m being pedantic, but for all you know your next client could be equally pedantic and it is in everyone’s interest to be very careful with words and to manage expectations. Often these casual promises are entirely unnecessary.

Imagine you have ordered something online. You may not need the postal delivery to arrive until the end of the week. However, if you’ve received an email promising its arrival by a certain time on the Monday, you then start to worry if that target is missed. You wonder what might have become of your delivery even though it is not urgent and there are four more days left for it to arrive. A promise that was never important has now damaged a company’s reputation.

Managing expectations is key. Firstly, it is important not to glibly make promises unless they are genuine promises not ideal scenarios. Secondly, if you are going to make a promise, think very carefully about the task you set yourself. It is commendable to have high expectations of yourself and set positive goals, but the damage caused to your reputation by missing an overly-optimistic deadline can be far greater than any caused by setting yourself a less impressive but more realistic goal.

If you find you’ve broken a promise (even one you didn’t realise was taken as a promise at the time), honesty is your only way out. Excuses don’t wash and you need to be able to hold your hands up. But honesty should prevent you from getting into this situation. Clear honest communication should prevent misunderstandings and crossed wires. Ambitious yet realistic and achievable goal setting should inform your promises and promises, if made, should be written down, posted somewhere

Posted in: Personal Brand

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