Don’t Promise Much…

…do what you promise…or let people know you won’t be able to do what you promised

We’ll call Tuesday night at 7:00. Just move, and we’ll take care of you. We’re going to visit all the families in the congregation.” “I’ll help this church double. We’ll be able to appoint elders six months after I start working with you. I haven’t had any courses, but I’m a good counselor.”

When promises aren’t kept, trust erodes and quickly disappears. It may be in the home, business, or church.

There’s a way not to let trust deteriorate:

Don't promise much…do what you promise…or let people know you won’t be able to do what you promised. Click To Tweet
  1. Don’t promise much. When a promise is related to dates and times, record it and set up a reminder to execute on what you said you would do. If you’re uncertain if you can do what you’d like to do, state you’ll do your best, and if it doesn’t come together, you’ll let others know.
  2. Do what you promise. It may take more time, money, and effort than you first thought. But doing what you said is important.
  3. If you can’t do what you promised, let people know you won’t be able to keep your commitment. If you see before the date and time, let people know you won’t be able to keep the commitment. Give an alternate date and time or give a reason why you won’t ever be able to keep the promise.
  4. If the deadline passes, contact the ones who were counting on you and apologize.

An alternative to this plan is not to do what I promised. I hope people will forget. It was harder than I thought. It took longer than I expected. It cost more money than I budgeted.

It’s been three months. Everybody seems to be OK with me.

I repeat this a few times.

I don’t understand why people don’t believe what I say.

An article from the Wall Street Journal illustrates the principle:

Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver

“I’ll have your parts in two weeks.”
Four weeks later the parts arrive.

“I’ll put it in your hand the minute you walk in the door.”
But all you get when you walk in is a handshake.

“Dinner will be at 6:00.”
But as you dip your spoon in the soup, the clock strikes 7:45.

“The doctor will see you in five minutes.”
35 minutes later you’re greeted cheerfully: “And how are we today?”

Avoid a lot of grief and inconvenience for the people you deal with. Think before you announce how long something will take — and then deliver what you promised. On time.
(A message as published in the Wall Street Journal by United Technologies Corporation, Hartford, Connecticut 06101, 1986.)

I had an experience in trust building about a year ago. My computer wasn’t working. I carried it to the Apple store in Louisville, Kentucky. They said everything checked out fine except the hard drive. We decided that was important. They promised to have the work completed in three or four days. They’d call or text me when it was ready. I left the store about 4:00 p.m.

I drove back to Jeffersonville, Indiana. I received a call at 7:15 that night.

“Mr. Barber, your repair is complete and ready to be picked up.”

“That’s not what you promised me.”

“What did we promise?”

“You promised you’d be finished in three or four days. It’s only been three hours and fifteen minutes.”

I was impressed. I posted the incident on Facebook. I’ve been telling my friends since then. That kind of promise keeping is valuable, encouraging, and makes people fans of a reliable promise keeper.

Promise keeping is valuable, encouraging, and makes people fans of a reliable promise keeper. Click To Tweet

How do you build trust? What do you do when people are untrustworthy?

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What Are Your Rules?

how do you act when you aren’t thinking?

I am intrigued, guided, informed, strengthened, weakened, and sometimes made wiser by observing, making, breaking, and changing rules.

I’m not discussing in this post rules in the Bible.

Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind (Philippians 3:16, NKJV).

I want to obey the will of Jesus.

[tweetthis]I like to be aware of my habits and evaluate them.[/tweetthis]

What are my rules?

One definition of rule is “a guide or principle for conduct or action” (Merriam-Webster); “have as a habit or general principle to do something” (search bar dictionary).

What is the way I do things? How do I respond when I’m not thinking? What is natural for me?

Our rules, individual, family, church, and business, are often unconscious, unspoken, but understood. We rarely think of our habits as rules. We rarely talk about our rules and consider changing them. But when someone breaks one of our rules, or when we break someone else’s rules, there are often consequences. This leaves us confused, perhaps angry, and self-righteous. Doesn’t everyone know my rules are better than yours?

We get our first rules from our family. I assumed the Barbers did everything the best way. I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t understand the right way as I do.

However, there’s a possibility the Barbers who lived in Centerville, Tennessee, in the 1950s didn’t do everything in the right or best way.

When we unconsciously act from our family script, our choices are limited. It tells us how to be angry, or how to hide, or how to protect others. We learned our lines as soon as we learned to talk (Leaders Who Last, by Margaret J. Marcuson, Kindle Locations 375-376).

I’ve found it helpful to consider other rules.

Take an inventory. What are my rules for

  1. Work. I haven’t worked out my rules for this. I like what I do. When I’m working, I’m enjoying the way I spend my time. In the past, when I became top-heavy in this department, it deprived me of a good balance in the next department.
  2. Family. Several years ago, some good elders instructed me to take more time with my family. I made a new rule. I set aside a family night each week. When someone asked for time on Family Night, I told them I had something scheduled. Could we meet another time? I never had anyone challenge me on that.
  3. Worship. Do I assemble for worship when there’s not something better, or does it have a priority?
  4. Rest. Thirty-five years ago I was having some health problems. I went to the doctor with my theory and prescription. He asked me how much I was sleeping. I replied, “Three to five hours a night.” His prescription was to sleep eight hours a night for thirty nights and come back for a visit. My symptoms cleared up. I made a new rule about rest: my goal is eight hours sleep each night. Although I don’t reach that target every night, each month my average is close. That’s worked better than my old rule.
  5. Recreation. I want to do something I enjoy different from the work I enjoy. When doing recreation, I’m rested and often have ideas about my other enjoyment.
  6. Money. By making a few rules, our finances have improved. Two examples: Gail and I write checks for our contribution a month ahead of time before a new month begins. We don’t have to scramble for a checkbook during the second song. Several years ago, we made a new rule about credit. We decided not to finance cars. We didn’t stop making car payments. We changed where we made car payments. Now on the fifth of each month, we make a car payment to ourselves. For more than two decades, we’ve had money to buy a car when we needed it with no strain. It was a simple rule change.
  7. Time. What are the most important things to do each day? I can plan those and work with the contingencies or not plan and let other people plan my time for me.
  8. Criticism (receiving and giving). In my early years of preaching, my rule was to avoid criticism and deny the validity of it when anyone gave it. Some severe criticism one Sunday  and an hour with a counselor on Monday changed my outlook and my rule on criticism. My rule now is: I love criticism. I invite it and encourage it. That one rule change has relieved much stress and anxiety. Six years ago, I added the “no anonymous criticism” clause to my contracts with churches. This has added to the pleasure in dealing with criticism. Small rules often made big differences.
  9. Anger. Do I choose when, how, to whom, where, how much, and within determined guidelines, or do I express my anger, or say, “You made me angry,” and blame my responses on others? In my early years, I believed the rule that anger was a sin. When I learned what God said, I didn’t have to deny my anger (Ephesians 4:26, 27). I now can spend my energy on thinking about how to deal with the anger I have and respond in a scriptural and wise way.
  10. Eating. I changed my rule in eating at buffets. For years, I had the rule I needed to eat as much as I could to get my money’s worth. Now, I consider the price I spend on a meal at a restaurant as rent for a place to visit with family and friends. What and how much I eat is my choice and doesn’t reflect on my wise handling of money. That change in rules has improved my weight and peace about finances.
  11. Exercise. For ten years, my rule was: if it wasn’t too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold, and if I had time and felt like it, I ran. My exercise routine was sporadic. For the past forty-eight years, I’ve averaged running 725 miles a year. So far, it’s working. If I felt better when I was twenty, I don’t remember it. I’ve spent some money and a lot of time running. I’m enjoying compound interest on investments I’ve made for nearly half a century.
  12. Confidentiality. For the first few years of ministry, I told people, “What we say here, stays here. My wife and I are one. If I feel a need to tell my wife, I will, and she’s dependable.” No one had instructed me on this. After attending two Christian colleges four years and majoring in Bible, I received fifty minutes instruction on how to deal with people, and I don’t remember what brother Huffard said about counseling. Years later, I realized I was asking my wife to do something I was unwilling to do: keep a confidence and not tell anyone. I changed my rule. I wasn’t treating her fairly. Now the rule is: what we say here stays here. I don’t tell anyone.
  13. Communication. I am 100% responsible for my communication with others. My rule is to tell others what they need to know in dealing with me. I’ll ask what I need to know in dealing with them. I won’t feel guilty when I didn’t know I was expected to do something, I didn’t do it, and someone wants me to feel guilty.
  14. Prayer. I rarely tell people, “I’ll be praying for you.” Often when people ask me to pray for them, I pray quickly and tell them I have prayed for them. My rule is to carry on a running conversation with God, thanking Him for blessings, communicating my awe and wonder at His wisdom, knowledge, and power, asking for blessings for me and others, and complaining when I don’t think things are turning out the way I think they should.
  15. Bible study. Nearly two years ago, I started reading the Bible aloud each morning. That rule has made a difference in what I hear God saying.
  16. Backing up computer work. I back up all current work to Dropbox. iCloud backs up much of my work automatically. I have a Time Machine external hard drive connected to my main computer at all times. I have three hard drives I rotate. The first day of each month, I bring a hard drive from my house to the church building and change. The hard drive I’ve taken to the house I take to Nashville the next time we go there and exchange it for the one there. In addition to what I do, I subscribe to Carbonite. This service backs up everything on my main computer without any effort on my part. Total time and effort on my part in backing up all computer work: about 10 minutes a month. The relief when I have to reformat my hard drive and reload my information, indescribable.
  17. Fasting. There are things I learn and ways I grow when I fast that come no other way. My practice is to preach about fasting and to fast sometime during the preacher selection process at each church where I work as an interim.
  18. Social media. I like the metaphor I read about checking in on Facebook and other media as other people take smoking breaks. That’s my rule. Facebook is my smoking break. It doesn’t clog up the lungs and I stay connected and communicate with thousands of people.
  19. Listening and talking order. Do I listen as soon as I get through talking or do I listen before talking? I’ll say more about this below.

[tweetthis]Our rules are often unconscious, unspoken, but understood.[/tweetthis]

I consciously establish rules that help me act a constructive way, without thinking. I do it automatically. That saves time.

Some of these are

  • My morning rituals of Bible reading, arranging my to-do list for the day, reading the word of the day in the dictionary, wishing FB friends Happy Birthday!, tweet a thought for the day.
  • Run 15 miles a week.
  • Read. I read five books at a time. I rotate after each chapter to the next book. For years I didn’t read novels. I read that reading novels was good for your thinking. Now I read novels of friends. I enjoy them and think they’re worth the time.
  • Record in my contact list every bit of information which may be helpful. Some of the most valuable information I have is contained in the 5,792 contacts I’ve collected for more than three decades.
  • Wear shirts and pants from the right side of the hanging rod in my closet; hang them up on the left side at night. I don’t stand and deliberate what to wear each day.

In doing my inventory, I see there are rules I need to change. For three years, listening was a rule I worked on changing. This was my goal:

Listening to others and valuing others is my emphasis this year. I have worked several years on the first commandment, and I want to continue it. This year: listen to others, learn about and from them. Be interested in what they value.

I’ve laminated pictures on my computer, dashboard, and money clip to remind me. I’ve improved that habit over the three years.

Periodically, I like to consciously interrupt my rules and evaluate. This is one of the things I do during the interim between my interims. During March this year, I didn’t read, post, or participate in Facebook and Twitter. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t addicted and could stop if I chose to. I didn’t lose sleep because of Facebook withdrawal. I’ve resumed my habit and continue to enjoy it. It’s helpful to me and others.

Questions to Consider

  • What rules do you want to keep?
  • What rules do you want to strengthen?
  • What rules do you want to change?
  • When do you plan to start?
  • By what date will you see progress?
  • How will you measure your progress?
  • Who will report their observations?

Here’s an article I read yesterday that relates to this topic: Willpower Is a Muscle—Here’s How to Make It Stronger. That article is sponsored by Grammarly, a grammar checker. They have both a free and paid version. One of my rules is that I check my writing with grammerly.com and Hemmingway editor. They’re both helpful.

When I’m establishing a new relationship, I like to learn others’ rules and let them know mine. I take a few minutes each week in a new interim church to let them know my rules. This doesn’t mean I’m rigid, have always done it this way, or would be unwilling to change when I find a better way. These are my rules now:

These are my thoughts and some of the rules I’ve developed over the past seventy-two years.

If you haven’t thought about your rules, you might want to think about them. When you think about them and consciously work on them, you can do better without thinking about it.

[tweetthis]That’s what rules are — what we naturally do without thinking.[/tweetthis]

What are your rules about rules?

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