Sunday, January 17, 2016

Accountability - Do you do what you agree to do?

How accountable are you for your agreements? When you say you are going to do something, do you do it?

There was a time when I would say I would do things but then often not do them. For example: an acquaintance would suggest we go bowling and I would answer something like: "Yeah, I'll call you." But then I wouldn't call. Or when I first started in my career, a manager might ask me to provide a write-up on something and I might say something like: "I'll have it by the end of tomorrow." But that day and the next would pass, without any high-priority emergencies, and yet I wouldn't finish the write-up.

Does that sound familiar? Do you have patterns like this? Maybe at work, or with a family member or spouse, or with friends or acquaintances?

What was I doing when I said I would do something but then not do it? In both examples above, I might have had mixed feelings about doing the thing, or I might have actually meant to do it. But somehow I never quite managed to get it done. What did this behavior communicate to my friend or my manager? Perhaps it told them that I couldn't be counted on. Maybe even it said that I didn't put much value on things are that important to them. They might not have realized it consciously, but I suspect that they received a message that I didn't care very much about them.

There came a time when I realized that not keeping agreements were weakening relationships with people in my life, at work and outside work. So I briefly decided that the answer was that I wouldn't commit to very much. So if that acquaintance suggested bowling, my new answer would be something like: "Yeah, maybe." Or with my manager, I would try to get away with telling him that I would complete the write-up "soon". But it quickly became apparent that this strategy wasn't strengthening relationships with people.

These days, I have a strategy around agreements that strengthens relationships with people. When I'm asked something, I stop and consider the request seriously. I ask myself whether I want to agree to it, and whether I'm for sure able to commit to it. If both are yes, then I give the person a date or time when I will do it, and then I follow through. So, in the bowling example again, my answer would be "Yeah, that sounds fun! Can you do it this Friday?" And with my manager, I would say: "I've got a lot on my plate right now; I'm not sure when I will be able to get to the write-up. Do you want to change my priorities? If I stopped everything else right now, I could have it by noon tomorrow."

Obviously, my new strategy doesn't require me to agree to everything. Maybe I don't like bowling. In that case, I could suggest a specific time for an alternate activity. Or maybe I really don't want to hang out with that person at all, I might just say: "Nah, but thanks for asking." Or I might tell my manager, if it's true, that I don't think I would do a good job on the write-up, and suggest a different person to ask. Or if it's just a preference, I could tell him something like: "If you need it to be me, I will do it. But if not, I'd rather stay on what I'm working on. Okay?"

Besides the way that this method of handling agreements strengthens connections with people, I find it has personal benefits as well. I'm able think of myself as a responsible person. And I don't feel guilty for indirect communication. And I get much more clear about what I want, what I'm willing to do, and what I'm not willing to do.


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