Build Trust through Broken Promises

People often tell me how much they need to be able to count on one another to come through, particularly during this period of doing more with less.

Think about it for a moment. When you do what you said you’d do, you give people concrete evidence that you can be trusted. Trust is your relationships’ adhesive. Without it, everything gets harder and takes longer.

Simple, right?

If you’re like most people, keeping your agreements is something you want to do, and intend to do. You work hard to deliver what you’ve promised. You want people to know they can count on you, and trust you.

Yet, sometimes, you face challenges that keep you from keeping your agreements.

Does this sound familiar? Have you ever…

Encountered the unexpected? A piece of the project takes longer than anticipated. You can’t get your hands on a critical piece of information. A child is sick so you have to get to a doctor. A spouse unexpectedly has to go out of town and you become a single parent. Let’s face it. Life happens. Sometimes, it is really hard to do what we say we will do.

 Over-extended? You agreed to something against your better judgment. You said yes, when your inner voice wanted to say no, or not right now. You want to be seen as reliable, dependable, and as a team player. As a result, you unintentionally over-extend yourself and put yourself in a situation where it becomes very difficult to come through. People rely on you and you carry the stress and worry about how you’re going to deliver. You might even beat yourself up for saying yes.

Faced the crescendo effect? When the accumulation of commitments from all aspects of your life mount, you don’t see how you can possibly do all that you said you would do. You have your daily demands and then there are the ‘above and beyond’ demands. You serve on the leadership conference planning committee, assume the project lead role of a team, spearhead a new service offer, direct your son’s school play, plan a family reunion, sell and buy a house. Something is going to give – either by default, or by a conscious choice.

Felt vulnerable and procrastinated? You made the agreement as an opportunity to contribute to the project and to stretch yourself, and through your enthusiasm got out a bit ahead of yourself. You want to deliver yet you aren’t sure you have the knowledge and experience to back up your agreement. You begin to second-guess yourself, creating your own delays. The next thing you know it is too late.

Nobody wants to let others down or be seen as the person who does not keep promises.

When you face the unexpected, overextend yourself, suffer from the crescendo effect, or feel vulnerable, it does not have to cost you your trustworthiness. It can actually strengthen your trustworthiness. The key is how you respond.

When you find yourself unable to deliver as promised, here are trust building steps you can take:

Pause and acknowledge the original agreement.

Re-cap what you had promised to do. Ask yourself:

  • “What is the commitment I made?”
  • “What are others expecting from me?”

Provide Context.

Share your circumstances and the unexpected challenge to honoring your original agreement:

  • “The review process is taking longer than I anticipated.”
  • “I am waiting for a critical piece of information.”
  • “My child is sick and I have to…”
  • “I underestimated what this would take.”

Recognize other’s needs.

Show you understand the impact of the delay:

  • “I know how important this is for the team.”
  • “I understand the timeline and deliverables my commitment is supporting.
  • I get that people need ‘this’ component to move forward.”

Tell the truth about your situation:

Be honest. Own your truth:

  • “I want to carry my weight. In the spirit of being a trusted team member, I am over-committed and find myself over-extended.”
  • “I have a number of commitments that are adding up. I find myself in a situation where…”
  • “I am a bit nervous that I bit off more than I could chew and…”

Negotiate a solution:

Ask for support you need:

  • “I need two more days. Is that possible?”
  • “I could use the support of…can you help me line that up?”
  • “I’d like to hand in a draft and gain some feedback. Is that possible?”
  • “Are there options you see?”

When you acknowledge at the earliest time possible that you’ve hit a wall, faced an unexpected challenge, and need to re-negotiate your agreement, you not only maintain trust…you strengthen it. People come to know you as the person then can rely on to be straightforward, take responsibility, and keep them informed.

Consider how you would like others to manage the agreements they make with you. Use that as your guidepost. Takes steps to be that person. Trust begins with you.

Yours in trust,

Michelle Reina

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