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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7 thoughts on “Don’t Promise Much…

  1. Such a needed message, Jerrie! I fall flat so frequently because I think I can get done more than I can. I hope to, I plan to, I try to–I really want to–but I overestimate my ability to perform and underestimate the challenges, disruptions, and my plain old ineptness! Thanks for the reminders. I appreciate, too, the suggestions for dealing with our failures to deliver. –Dale

  2. Dale,
    Thank you for your response.
    I’ve noticed when I can tell the truth about not telling the truth, telling the truth is much easier.

  3. Thanks for this article, Jerrie! As a recovering people-pleaser, I need to learn how and when to say “no” without feeling guilty for letting someone down. I also need to learn to swallow my pride and admit when I’m wrong without succumbing to self-condemnation. Humbling oneself does not have to be or feel humiliating!

    • J.N.,
      Good observation. I really want to do what people want me to do. But there’s no way I can do everything everybody wants me to do.
      I like your distinction between being humble and being humiliated.

  4. Brother Jerrie, good stuff as usual. You always seem to motivate me to share a story…here goes….as a young preacher I told everybody I encountered ……”if there was any way I can help you out, just let me know……” Being a man of my word, I helped countless people move, hauled hogs to market, harvested their gardens, cut firewood, sowed oats, nailed tin roofing on the coldest day of my life, ….and much more. Once, I hauled a women to Emory Hospital in Atlanta for major surgery while her family stayed home to “keep house”. I’ve always had a “high density” factor.

    Finally, I caught on, it was that phrase which I backed with my integrity that was so believable. They literally thought…..”he offered to help with anything….we will let him!” Needless to say, that phrase has been altered over the years. In fact I never say that anymore. I still offer my services, but with limits. I am more apt to offer to network with folks to get the help they need. I will even say, If I can’t do it, maybe together,we can find someone who can. I think it was on the roof of that ole country house on a 20 degree day that I learned……don’t promise to much………. Great article….thanks, I needed that.

    • Jeff,
      Thank you for confessing the point, and sharing your education.
      I often illustrate that kind, common, and devastating offer, “if there was any way I can help you out, just let me know……”, as tearing a check from my checkbook, signing the lower right-hand corner, and telling my friend to fill in the amount. That won’t work with my banking account, and that won’t work with my life.
      I will either
      1. Collapse, doing what I promised.
      2. Not do what I promised because I promised too much, and lose credibility.

  5. This blog post hits home as I seem to have over promised my entire life. There’s a Travis Tritt song that fits in here somewhere. I’m just glad my wife loves me still, she deserves so much more than an overpromiser 🙂