Will they do what they say?

Will they do what they say? Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unspalsh
A common problem I hear from my clients is trusting people will do what they say. I come across this regularly myself, especially when I am working with someone new. I have learned to only accept trustworthy commitments, but how do you do this? How do you know whether you can trust the positive response they’ve just given you?

How can I trust they will do what they say?

You could take them at their word. If you know someone well and have a long track record with them, this will work well. It gets more difficult when you are just starting out. How they respond can be a good indicator to judge their level of commitment. But even that can be problematic. I may 100% intend to do it and not realize I don’t have the available capacity to meet my commitment. At this point I don’t blame you for thinking there’s no way to ensure you are receiving a trustworthy commitment. And if you are, I hope to change your mind.

Ask powerful questions

So what can you do? Rather than take their promise at face value, explore it with a coaching conversation. These conversations are based around asking questions. I would start with a simple question like, what has to happen for you to meet your commitment. Don’t accept a wishy washy answer, ask for specifics. What will have to happen and when. There is a good chance they won’t have considered this and you might help them uncover a problem. Now it is clear, are they able to do this? If the answer is no, help them to rework their commitment to something that is reasonable. You may be disappointed it will take longer or require something extra, but it is much better to find out now.
Another powerful question is to ask them what will prevent them completing the work? When I first heard this question I was perplexed. I just got them to agree and now I want to ask them why it won’t get done on time? Why would I want to encourage them to miss their commitment? Once again, I would rather know now and perhaps by identifying the risks, they can be mitigated.
By asking these questions you can assess the trustworthiness of their response. It is too easy to accept a yes and end up disappointed. Instead, I encourage you to invest the time upfront to strengthen the agreement. And if you don’t do this, are you willing to accept responsibility when things turn out badly?