We all know the problems that arise from a web of lies, a web of promises poses similar issues to those who are prone to make too many. Promises are necessary for daily life if you want to maintain your relationships and continue to be paid for the work you do. However, handing out promises without consideration can land you in a sticky situation. Keep reading for some ideas on how to cut through the web of promises and to live beyond the reach of promised social responsibility.
Let’s start with a common scenario. You want to please the people in your life, and to do so you make promises without considering the impact on your time, the people you are promising, or how they relate to the other promises you have made. You are now stuck in a web of promises and feel that you have only a few options in front of you. You want to please the people you have promised. You want to fulfill all of your promises. You may not know how to do it, especially if some of those promises are conflicting. How do you get out of this situation?
Let’s tackle the first and obvious step. Stop making promises. You can’t get out of the situation if you’re adding more promises and expectations on top of those you already have. If someone comes to you with a request you can let them know that you’re a little busy at the moment and will be happy to get back to them later.
Next, you’ll want to write down as many of the promises as you can remember. Go back in your memory as far as you can. Details are important. Who did you make the promise to? What is involved in the promise? Is this something you can bang out in a couple minutes? When did you promise to deliver? All of these points should be captured for each promise. This will help you in the next step.
Now is the time to prioritize. Look at your list and consider the following: When am I supposed to deliver on this promise? How long is this going to take? How important is it that I get this done immediately? Who is this promise for, and what is at stake if I don’t deliver? Arrange these promises in a logical order that makes them easy to accomplish. Perhaps two of your promises are location-bound and close together. You can knock out two promises at once with a quick trip.
Finally, act, and don’t stop acting until you’ve closed out the entire list of promises. Each promise completed carries with it a sense of pride and good feelings for having completed something special for another person. Use that good feeling as momentum to carry you through the next promise on your list.
What happens if you find a promise that you really don’t want to complete? There will be times when you make promises you don’t intend to deliver on, as bad as that sounds, we’re only human and the urge to please is strong. When you come across a promise like that it is best to mark it as dead and let the person know that you will not be able to complete what was promised. It may hurt the relationship a little, but not as much as waiting, not delivering, promising again, then completing the task with a small amount of resentment.
What do you do with competing promises? First, look at the people you promised and determine their relative importance. Perhaps you promised your boss that you’d stay after work to help with a project, forgetting that you promised your wife a night out. You would look at the importance of each relationship and the potential damage done by canceling. Maybe in this case your wife would be devastated at the cancelation while your boss would ask someone else to fill in for you.
Let’s say that both people are equally important to you and there are no clear favorites in choosing which promise to complete. In that case, look at the importance of the request itself. Promising to look after a family member’s dog or going out to the bar with some friends is a good example. Both people are important to you, so you can’t choose between the two of them. The promise itself is the key here. Your friends will miss you if you’re not at the bar. The dog can not walk or feed itself. In this case, you take care of the dog.
In both cases above it’s important to talk out your cancelation and apologize for any hurt feelings. This will let the other party know that you do care and will go a long way in mending any damage to the relationship that the cancelation may incur.
Stay Out of the Web
Now that you’ve cut away the webs of your current predicament, how do you make sure that it doesn’t happen again?
Value action over making promises. You don’t need to make promises when someone comes to you with a request. The habit of making promises amounts to a stall tactic while we’re doing something else. The key is to act as soon as possible or even immediately to get the request out of the way.
Know when to say “No”. All requests are not the same, and if you’ve gotten into the habit of people-pleasing and making promises then your ability to say “No” has been compromised. People know when you can’t say no and many will take advantage of this weakness to no end. Practice flexing your no muscle. Think about the request and how it impacts your time. Start saying no. Understand that saying no will likely result in a few hurt feelings, and you can’t let that stop you.
If you have to make a promise, keep track of it. Too many promises results when you can’t remember the other promises that you’ve made. If you have a good memory or you work fast on what you promise this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. The problem occurs when you have too many promises to keep track of. What then?
Write down your promises. If you write down your promises you have a greater chance of not forgetting what you promised, to whom, and when you’re supposed to deliver. This also gives you the benefit of review to make sure that your promises aren’t counterproductive.
Get them done fast! The problem with promises is that they automatically relegate the action to the future. If the request is small and easily accomplished don’t wait. Small promises tend to slip from our minds faster than the big ones.
By following these steps you can get yourself out of almost any web of promises with little more than a couple hours of grit and possibly a few hurt feelings. Once free of the web of promises don’t go looking to get yourself stuck again by carelessly promising yourself into it again. Keep the steps above in mind any you’ll find yourself acting faster and worrying less about forgetting the promises you’ve made.