What do you do when someone reneges on a promise?

Have you ever worked with someone (e.g., boss, co-worker, customer or vendor) who promised to deliver by a certain time and date, and failed to do so? And, kept failing over and over to keep their word? Some may not even remember making the promise, relying upon a false memory. Worse? They may use their position (e.g., being the boss, government official, etc.) to exonerate their lie. You may even have the agreement in writing. Yet, that doesn’t help you achieve the results you need for your company or meet a critical project deadline. How do you handle this bad behavior (if ongoing)? How can you minimize or prevent future miscommunications?

Take notes. Too often we believe we’ll remember what someone else has said. The problem?  Most human beings are very poor listeners, including you! They’ll even excuse any written agreements or emails by saying, “I was too busy and simply skimmed it.” Or, “I was simply agreeing with you!” HUH? When we are negotiating and setting up any type of agreement with another person, we need to stop(!) multi-tasking and focus 100% on what is being said. Clearly establish the “By-When” date and time the product or project will be completed and delivered. Set up checkpoints to monitor progress at the beginning and make any necessary adjustments as you go along, together. Include any additional specifications or verbal agreements outside the original agreement. Review immediately with the other person before moving on to other topics or concluding the meeting. 

Talk it out. Too often when something is not working out as expected, there is apt to be a barrage of emails back and forth. This will rarely resolve an issue since most can be easily misinterpreted. Is there a concern that your client doesn’t feel comfortable expressing? Is there a consequence to them if they admit to a mistake? Is there an unreasonable expectation that simply cannot be fulfilled? You’ll never know unless you ask. Don’t be afraid to discuss and see what win-win outcome(s) can be created. After the project completed, meet face-to-face with the person to resolve any residual concerns. Simply blowing it off will rarely prevent it from happening again, with this person or another!

Our critical ego. Too often we label the other person when problems occur. We tell others the person(s) doesn’t have a high level of integrity, a value. Others may or may not agree with your assessment; however, if they act upon it, it can create a liability for your career or your company. Be careful using words like “integrity,” “ethics,” “need to forgive,” etc.  These are hot buttons today. If you push any one of them, there will probably be an explosion. Instead of playing this no-win game of finger pointing (remember every time you point a finger, there are three fingers pointed back at you), focus on the needs of the project. Work through the issues or concerns to resolve them in a win-win manner.

©Jeannette Seibly, 2011

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