Are You Committed?

Sep 29, 2016

”Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left? Five, because deciding is different than doing.” That is how Fred Kofman, VP at LinkedIn begins his post entitled Are You Making This Mistake at the End of Your Meetings? If you are a member of LinkedIn, you can read the whole post here. It is worth it. Lots of practical advice. The gist is that you must make a commitment to solve the problem, not just discuss it.

Too often leaders get together and discuss their challenges and end meetings with no definitive plan to solve the problem. They do this sometimes out of fear that they may be wrong. Other times they do so because they can’t reach a consensus, or worse, they can’t reach 100% agreement. Whatever the reason, they end up revisiting their issues over and over. Or they choose to discuss and potentially solve an easier issue. Or they brush the issue under the rug. Or maybe they put band aids on the issues and plan on dealing with them some other time. Or they decide to gather more data. Or hope they go away. Sound familiar? Here are further points from Kofman’s article about commitment.

Time to Commit

A well-formed request demands a clear response. There are only three possible answers:

  1. Yes, I commit.
  2. No, I decline.
  3. I can’t commit yet because,
    1. I need clarification.
    2. I need to check; I promise to respond by X.
    3. I want to propose an alternative.
    4. I can make it only if I get Y by Z.

Anything else is a weasel promise. Here are some interesting ways by which people often say, “No, I don’t commit.”

> Yes, I’ll try.
> OK, let me see what I can do.
> Seems doable.
> Let me check into it.
> Someone will take care of it.

When you declare, “I commit,” you assume the responsibility to honor your word unconditionally. You take on an obligation to deliver on your promise; or if you can’t, to do your best to take care of the requester.

When you declare, “I decline,” you might still try to do what you were asked, but you don’t commit. You do not give the requester the right to hold you accountable. It is much better to have a clear “no” than to get bogged down in a wishy-washy “I’ll do my best.”

There are many good reasons to decline. You may not have the resources; you may not have the skills; you may have a conflict with a previous commitment; you may anticipate problems; or you may just not want to do it.

When you are not ready to say “yes” or “no” right away, you may:

  • Ask for clarification if the request is unclear to you. For example, if I ask you to help me with a project, you might ask, “What kind of help do you need?” or, “When do you need my help?”
  • Promise to respond by a certain time if you need to check your resources, obtain commitments from others, or assess whether you can deliver to specifications. For example, if I ask you to prepare a report, you might answer, “Let me check if I have the information available. I’ll get back to you in an hour.”
  • Counteroffer with an alternative proposal to satisfy the need behind the request. For example, if I ask you to meet today, you might respond: “I am not available today. Could we meet tomorrow? Or if it’s urgent, we could speak by phone.”
  • Commit conditionally if your commitment depends on factors outside of your control. For example, if I ask you deliver a rush order, you can commit to do it only if I authorize overtime.

Clear commitments don’t mean that everything will work out. Life is unpredictable, so even the most impeccable commitments can break down. In my next post, I will explain how you can preserve effectiveness, trust, and integrity even when you can’t fulfill your promise.

Do or do not … there is no try.” — Yoda

A version of this post originally appeared on on 10/10/2013.

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