By Gary, on November 25th, 2013
What is a promise? A promise can take on a multitude of forms: vows, advertising, agreements, contracts, etc. And, a promise can be absolute or conditional. A promise can be written, a hand shake, verbal, non-verbal, a formal agreement, a memorandum of understanding, etc. Each dictionary I checked had a slightly different main definition and their definitions were in different orders.
What I am going to do is define the action of promising as committing to do something. The commitment can be almost anything and to anyone. It can be to yourself, your spouse, your friend, your child, your parent, your employer, your peer, your voters, your constituents, your congregation, your relatives, etc. It can be to pay something, do something, lose weight, change a habit, commitment to a recurring action, take out the trash, walk the dog, etc. You get the idea and I am confident you can think of many promises that you have made.
Several books, magazine articles, seminars, and classes concerning making a promise have been written and presented. They delve into microscopic detail the specific issues of making a promise. The amount of information is very overwhelming and almost kept me from addressing this topic.
Personally, I promised my partners to post on our blog site weekly. I was doing pretty well – keeping my promise to them – but, then circumstances changed and I stopped posting weekly. I have now broken that promise. Now what happens? Well, usually when a promise is broken, personal embarrassment happens, then anger at yourself, irritation at those who remind you of breaking the promise, dealing with the disappointment and anger of to whom you made the promises. Trust suffers and diminishes.
I have also been on the other side of the familiar coin: someone broke a promise they made with me. For example:
I do some consulting and bill my client. My client gets my bill and says that they can pay me by “x” date. “X” date comes up and no payment has been made. I call them, reminding them of their promise to pay by “x” date. They reply saying that the check will be cut today and in the mail by tomorrow. Allowing a couple of days for the mail, I check the mailbox – no check. I wait another day and still no check. I email them and remind them again. They reply, apologize, and commit to mailing payment today.
I really enjoy working with this client and over several months have built up a good relationship with them. However, the fact that they have broken their promise to pay three times (so far) has diminished my trust in them and caused me to re-think how well the relationship is. Again, Trust suffers and diminishes.
It is much easier to maintain trust by keeping promises than to re-build trust after a promise has been broken. Once the promise has been broken, a difficult conversation needs to happen or the relationship can be damaged forever. Trust has to be tested and re-established.