How reliable are your commitments?

Have you been in meetings where lots of decisions are made but nothing gets done? Unless you finish the meeting with commitments about “who will do what by when,” everyone in the meeting has wasted their time. Decisions are worthless if you fail to turn them into commitments.

In a business conversation, a decision states an intention, but a commitment holds you accountable. Although a commitment does not guarantee delivery, it’s far more reliable than a decision. More importantly, when managed properly, it allows you to handle breakdowns with effectiveness, trust and integrity.

Broken commitments damage tasks, relationships and culture. They bring about inefficiencies, mistrust and corruption. Coordination suffers, collaboration suffers, and cohesion suffers. The key is to finish every conversation with clear commitments.

Commitment conversations begin with a request: “Can you bring the financials to the meeting?” or “Please ship the order to my new address.” Things can go off track at this early point, especially if you ask without really asking. You need to make clear what you’re asking for and get a commitment in reply.

The typical way to avoid making a clear request is to make a muddled one:

  • It would be great if…
  • Someone should..
  • Do we all agree to…?
  • Can you try to…?
  • The boss wants…

To make a clear request you must utter it in the first person, using direct language and addressing it to a specific person. You must specify observable conditions of satisfaction, including time. It helps if you explain your purpose for asking, and, if and when you arrive at an oral contract, always ask the other to sign it.

Although there are many ways to ask, the most effective follow a common pattern:

  1. In order to get A (a want or need),
  2. I ask that you deliver B by C.
  3. Can you commit to that?

It may sound odd to ask like this; you can adjust your language to suit your culture.

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:
    a. I need clarification.
    b. I need to check; I promise to respond by X.
    c. I want to propose an alternative.
    d. I can make it only if I get Y by Z.

When you declare, “I commit,” you assume the responsibility to honour 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 requestor.

It’s 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.

Clear commitments don’t mean that everything will work out. Life is unpredictable, so even the most impeccable commitments can break down.

Thanks to Fred Kofman, PhD. in Economics, Professor of Leadership and Coaching at the Conscious Business Center of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín.

Call us on 01865 881056 or email us at if this strikes a chord with you.