CEO Blog

Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

by Brady Nash on September 28, 2016

I believe most problems in relationships stem from communication where people make promises they can’t keep.

Some people have a really tough time having direct conversations, and often find it hard to be open and direct with their limitations.

Sometimes we feel that people that are super direct are scary, but yet, we appreciate when people are direct because you don’t have to try and guess what’s on their minds. It’s better to say what you mean, and mean what you say.

I have friends that struggle with saying no to a customer, or no to people in general. They don’t want to disappoint someone, so they agree to things they have no way of fulfilling.

A lot of people like to say yes to everything because they want to help people.

They genuinely care, but the problem is they’re people pleasers and by making promises they can’t keep, end up hurting themselves in the long run.

Your words become hollow.

It starts becoming like “the boy who cried wolf.”

If you tell me you’re going to do something and then don’t do it because something comes up, it’s not the end of the world. This stuff happens to everyone, but this should be an exception.

But if you not keeping your word becomes a perpetual issue, then your words don’t mean anything but empty promises and lip service.

I don’t think it’s intentional for a lot of people, but if you tell a customer you’re going to do something and you don’t, they will not have any confidence in you going forward.

Again, things do occasionally come up where you can’t meet a commitment or keep your word. Sometimes emergencies occur and you can’t deliver on a service or quote you promised a client. Not a big deal, reach out and explain the situation, most people are reasonable. You then just work to make it right.

But if you start failing to meet expectations and promises you set from the beginning, then your clients will have no faith in you, no trust in you, no confidence in you, and you’ll kill your reputation (this is also called a lack of integrity).

Your words should mean something.

For me, I’ve always wanted to be someone that will deliver on what I promise.

I want to be relied upon, which is also why I’m always a little hesitant to commit to things I’m not sure about.

Sometimes my wife gets frustrated that I’m slow to commit to plans.

It’s not because I’m afraid of commitment, I just don’t want to make a promise until I’m sure I can fulfill that promise. I want to set the proper expectation, because if I say it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. I want anyone and everyone to have confidence in me if I say I’m going to do something, they know Brady is going to make it happen. No question.

I think that’s a huge aspect of leadership. If I’m saying this is what we’re going to do, I want people to fully believe it.

This even applies in marriage or in parenting a child. False promises with no follow through are not good for any relationship. You’re only hurting yourself, as well as others, by making false promises to be at your kids sports events, music recitals, academic performances if you aren’t able to be there.

I learned this when it comes to disciplining my children. If I tell them not do something (ex. Hit their sibling, throw something) or they’ll have to go to time out, or won’t get to watch netflix, and then they go and hit one another, I have to deliver on the punishment I have already set in place. If I don’t, they lose fear/respect for me and it only gets worse, because I would be a softy and they would know they can get away with whatever they want.

The other side of the coin is those who never commit to anything because they’re afraid of not being able to keep their commitments. That’s just as annoying. These are the people you could invite a year in advance so they have nothing on the calendar and they’ll never say yes. They just don’t want to lock down the date because something might come up…. These are the people that never really commit, they just might show up the day of, you just never know. I have some good friends that I love dearly that have this tendency and it’s extremely frustrating. Just don’t be one of these people.

In business and personal relationships, you want to be someone that’s accountable and willing to commit or say no.

Don’t set expectations you can’t meet.

One of the best ways to avoid over-committing to a client comes from setting proper expectations in the earliest conversation.

Understanding how to set proper expectations is one of the biggest tools to being a successful business owner, and leader. If you learn how to set proper expectations, then people will know they can trust in what you’re saying.

Here’s an example: one of our company’s vendors is the place we buy branded company apparel from. They make an amazing product in completely customizable shirts, and branded apparel.

But their follow through sucks. They tout a 4 to 6 week turnaround time for completely custom shirts. You can brand them, label them, and use whatever colors you want.
We would love to buy ton and tons of things from them.

However, they were terrible at communicating with us. They said it’s going to be 4 to 6 weeks for our order, then 5 and 6 weeks would go by, and we didn’t get any response back from them.

The only response came when we reached out to them on their business Facebook page.

We essentially had to threaten them (last resort). After this happened, guess what happened?

They responded. This isn’t the definition of a healthy business relationship.

I would love to resell and promote the awesome items that this vendor makes, but if you can’t commit or you can’t deliver on what you promised I can’t count on you.

I’ll buy someplace else. Our company ended up switching vendors because of this and they lost out on thousands of dollars of revenue.

There are ways to not over-promise.

You’re better following the old adage under-promise and over-deliver.

You’ll build a lot better relationships and build the credibility by doing business that way.

Setting an expectation you can deliver on is always the way to go. Decide what you can practically accomplish and tell your customer that’s what you will give them. If you meet that expectation, then your customer is happy and has the warm fuzzies, right?

Communicate, set proper expectations, and follow through on your promises. This will create harmony for you and your business partners.

For the most part, if someone told me that a project would take two weeks to do it, and got it done in two weeks, I’d be satisfied.

Now if they did it in one week and told me two I’d think they were amazing!

If someone says, “Hey, I’m going to do this in two days,” and then they don’t, I’m going to be irritated. Even if you have a listed turnaround time faster than your competitor, I’m going to go to your competitor in the future because you didn’t keep your word, and you can’t seem to understand how to set proper expectations and hit your mark. That lack of accountability is something that a customer doesn’t want to have to work with.

People want to feel like they are a priority and you’re stepping up for them. The other extreme is, if you’re always coming in late with your promises (or not at all) they’re going to have a negative feeling about you and your business.

You never want to be dropping the ball on your end.

I never want the ball to be dropped in our court.

I never want us to be the one that’s not fulfilling our promises. If there’s ever an issue, I don’t want it to be because we didn’t come through on our commitment.

It’s a core competency of how you should do business. When you build a reputation of someone who always delivers on their promises, people will want to work with you.

In fact, there’s a certain point where you’ve dropped the ball so many times, that “sorry” no longer cuts it.

Apologies don’t fix missing commitments or promises in a business relationship or personal relationships. It’s like, “You know, I appreciate you saying you’re sorry and owning that you made a mistake, but I don’t want to hear it anymore. I want you to stop screwing up.”

There will be times when your business will struggle to meet expectations. It’s best to be humble and go and work out what expectations you can meet.

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Brady NashDon’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

About the Author

Brady spends most of his time leading his growing company(s). It’s his job to come up with the vision , leading BNG into the future. He also focuses on negotiating contracts, developing new partnerships, and being involved in his true passion, which is building great business relationships.