Most of us keep our big promises, but all too often, we make tons of tiny little “micro-promises” that we either never keep, or that we fulfill, but only with tremendous tardiness.
We say: “I will call you back in five minutes.” Then we call back the next day. We say: “Let’s have lunch soon,” but we never do. We say, “I’m happy to answer any questions that you have,” when we really don’t want to take the time to answer too many questions.
All of these tiny little promises are hard to keep track of. We make so many of them that we cannot possibly honor all of them. And we don’t take them seriously, do we?
We also break promises to ourselves. We say things like:
“I’m going to start going to bed earlier.”
“I’m going to wake up and go to the gym.”
“I’m going to call my mother.”
How many leaders, bosses, and educators make micro-promises that never come true? The answer is: too many! In fact, we take most people’s micro-promises with a grain of salt. When our long-lost friend that we run into at the store promises to call us the following week, we don’t really expect it to happen.
But all of these micro-promises, made to ourselves and to others, chip away at our social and human capital. What do other people think of us when we fail to keep our commitments? Remember that when you interact with other people, you are either building or destroying social capital. When these micro-promises are kept, the mortar that binds your relationships solidifies.
And when you keep the micro-promises that you make to yourself, you validate your own worthiness.
My friend and personal coach Michelle DeAngelis had a conversation about micro-promises, and here are my takeaways:
- Be mindful about seemingly idle micro-promises. No promise is idle or casual. Someone might be holding you to it, so make the promise only if you can do it. Kathy Kolbe, my friend and creator of the Kolbe System, advises that people should commit, but to very few things. If you are overrun with promises, you cannot fulfill them all. So when you make a promise, big or little, be sure it is one that you can fulfill.
- Once you commit, set up a mechanism so that you can schedule time to meet that commitment. Put it in your calendar or write it down, right then and there.
- Finally, make sure that you do not create a culture whereby micro-promises are broken by other people (which may normalize it and/or erode your own emotional wellbeing). When someone makes a micro-promise to you, find out whether they are truly committing. Say something like: “I would love for that to really happen. What should we each do to make it so?”