KEEP YOUR WORD OR KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT
Todd Dewett | December 8, 2013
I think we can all agree logically that it’s smart to keep your word. If you say you’re going to do something, you should do it. If that’s so obvious, why is it so hard for many people to keep their word? Before considering the answer to that question, let’s remember the obvious and very important benefits of keeping your word:
First, you are trusted. People who keep their word are seen as trustworthy. To keep your word is to make others know you are reliable. This is the foundation for their willingness to take risks on your behalf in the name of change and innovation.
Next, and as a direct result of trust, you engender a feeling of comfort. Few things are as wonderful at work as a genuine feeling of comfort when dealing with your colleagues or boss. Having done nothing more than what you said you would do creates a useful feeling of being at ease for others when they deal with you.
Finally, keeping your word is one important behavior that earns you respect. Sometimes you see people with official titles believe they are simply owed respect. Great professionals, of course, know better – you have to earn it. Keeping your word consistently is one way to do just that.
These are awesome benefits, so why do some people find keeping their word so difficult? A small number of people unfortunately are willing to say things they simply don’t mean in order to say what they think needs to be said in the moment. For example, imagine the boss approaches you looking particularly stressed out. He tells you a particular task really needs to be done by the end of the week. It’s near the end of the day. You want to go home. You aren’t sure you can get the work done by the end of the week. Nor do you think you’ll get in trouble if the work is not done by the end of the week. You tell the boss, “Sure, no problem.” That’s a form of lying, not good.
Much more common is the person who wants to do the right thing, but messes up. This group has good intentions, but they often make bad decisions. The boss asks them if the task can be done by the end of the week and they fail in the moment to think seriously about their workload. They fail to think clearly about how much work will be involved in finishing the task in question. They do however desire to help and they don’t like to say no. So they say, “Sure, no problem.” Many times the well-intentioned but not so thoughtful, or the well-intentioned but overworked, employee will commit to something and then fail to follow through successfully.
The consequences of this behavior are very real. First, consistently not keeping your word hurts your reputation. Even if you’re highly skilled, your reputation will suffer. In addition, the more you fail to keep your word the more people will begin to discount nearly anything you say, even if what you’re saying isn’t related to the issue that made them question you in the first place. Finally, this results in others entrusting you with less and less information, and quite possibly less and less responsibility.
Let’s be clear. Nobody is perfect. If you very rarely fail to keep your word – provided you have a seriously good explanation (and possibly an apology), that’s fine. Just don’t forget this rule of thumb: if you can’t keep your word, you’re better off keeping your mouth shut.