Taking Your Words Seriously
When we ordered the stained glass window as an accent piece for our
home, the artist-proprietor told us he was a bit behind. “So,” he said,
“to be on safe side, plan on six months.” That was two years ago. We
still don\’t have the window. Each time we call or stop in, he has yet
another plausible reason why our project isn\’t done, the appropriate
apology and a new promise of a delivery date. What he doesn\’t have is
Wishful promises don\’t cut it in small-town businesses or
big-city corporations. It doesn\’t matter what role you\’re in. If you
tell me you\’ll do something, I expect you will do it whether you\’re a
business, an employee, a co-worker or my boss. You\’re the one setting
my expectations, so why wouldn\’t I believe what you tell me?
It baffles me. I\’ve found in twenty years of management few
people meet or exceed the expectations they set and they control. I\’m
not talking about deadlines other people set for you. I\’m talking about
the ones you establish. Maybe it\’s because few people take their own
words seriously. If you do you can differentiate yourself at work.
People who consistently do what they say they\’re going to do, without
sandbagging, are memorable. They\’re the people with credibility.
They\’re the ones you want to hire and promote and do business with.
People fail to establish credibility without even knowing it. If
someone tells me she\’ll provide information by Friday, but what she
meant was “around Friday,” she\’ll feel she met her obligation to me
when she pushes send on her email Monday morning. I\’ll view her as
lacking credibility when the information for a project I wanted was
late. However, if she told me I\’d get the information no later than
Tuesday and delivered it on Monday, while her delivery date remains the
same, her credibility soars. By managing the words that define what
others can expect from you, you can surprise and delight your
co-workers, boss, and customers.
To do that, replace casual-speak and wishful promises of what
you\’d like to have happen or believe can happen, with commitments of
what will happen. But here\’s the key. You can\’t commit what you can\’t
control. If I tell a member of my staff he\’ll get his review next week,
but I only control when I finish writing it not when it\’s approved, the
likelihood of me failing to meet an expectation I set with him is
strong. But if the review is written, signed by my boss, and in for
processing at the time I set the expectation, I\’ll meet it.
Our delinquent artisan could have called three months into the
project, told us he accepted an unusual opportunity to restore an
historic building, was putting his other projects on hold until that
was complete, and offered us the choice of waiting until he resumed
work or getting our deposit back. He could have preserved his
credibility and the relationship.
Actions may speak louder than words. But it\’s our words that
provide the backdrop for whether our actions measure up. If I\’m your
customer, your boss, or your co-worker, I\’m taking your words
seriously. I think you should, too.