louis-amal-365211You’re super busy. I get that – we all have lives totally crammed with activities, obligations, and tasks.

That’s a choice you’ve made. And that’s OK.

But the important distinction is that there’s usually a gap between what you intend and what you deliver. When the gap gets too big, that’s a problem.

Let’s say that I told my friend I’d meet her at 6:00. That’s pretty clear, right? Given her normal expectations of social engagements, she’s not going to get nervous until maybe 6:10. She’ll think I’m probably stuck waiting for the train, our universal excuse in Fort Collins.

Being a punctual guy, I have in my mind that I need to leave home by 5:45, which leaves time to get there, find a parking spot, and be a few minutes early. So I have an independent clock going on in my head, which is totally based on how I choose to pay attention to time.

In this case, it works out great. If I am ten minutes late, she probably SHOULD be checking her phone to see if I’ve texted an explanation – and when we meet, I’ll apologize for making her wait.

This is a super-simple example, but it plays itself out many times during the day. It’s clear how to behave because we’ve created the societal norms around it.

It’s not quite as simple when you tell me that you’ll send an email this afternoon, and then it doesn’t arrive.

When you tell me you’re going to do something and then you don’t, I have multiple ways I can think about it:

  • “I know he’ll get to it eventually, he tends to be good about that.”
  • “There’s probably a good explanation, I’ll ping him.”
  • “Maybe he and I didn’t have the same expectation.”
  • “He often forgets, I’d better remind him.”
  • “He probably blew me off and never intended to do it in the first place.”

What’s the difference?

At the top of the list, I’m displaying a level of trust and cutting you some slack. I’m assuming good intent.

Moving down the list, I have less trust and making less-favorable assumptions. I’m even laying bad intent on you.

Notice that these were all based on the exact same data. In the moment, at least, we’re also using whatever past history has been in the relationship.

Stephen Covey described something he called the “emotional bank account,” and it’s useful here. You constantly have opportunities to either build or destroy trust in every relationship. When you deliver what you say and even more, you’re building trust. You’re making “deposits” in the account.

Likewise, when you fall short, you’re “withdrawing” from the account. When the account goes negative, well, the relationship falls apart. And trust is extremely hard to rebuild when you’re not working at it.

“Being busy” has become the universal excuse for not delivering on promises. But because it’s the new norm, we also don’t tend to give people as much leeway as they hope.

Much better to just promise what you’ll deliver, and do it. Become known for taking action and not just talking about action.

This article was first published in InnovatioNews.