David made a promise to Sushma whom he had met a couple times and fancied. He would ring her as soon as he got in from work that day, he said. She waited eagerly for his call because they were just getting to know each other and she was keen to have contact. But just before he was due to ring her, he got another call and was totally distracted by it. Sushma lost out because he forgot. He texted to apologise and suggested another call for the next day. However, he was busy calling so many other friends he forgot her again. He also reckoned on the ‘Treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em keen’ approach. Only Sushma didn't know that!
This time she sent a text to remind him that he hadn't called twice. He said he forgot, apologised again but complained of feeling ‘hassled’ and made a third promise which he did not keep either because he went out. That last broken promise did it for Sushma. She assumed he was not worth it and stopped waiting. He also didn't call again because he felt guilty.
The Value of Promises
Very few people realise, or wish to accept, that one of the worst experiences in life to an individual is a broken promise. We all have moments when we make a promise to someone and cannot keep it, for a variety of reasons. That is understandable. However, when there is a definite pattern in breaking promises it suggests three things:
1. That the person to whom the promise is made is not really a priority in the scheme of things; not as valued as others.
2. That the person making the promise is trying to please too many people at once, perhaps to impress, but failing miserably.
3. That the promise itself is not perceived as important enough to be kept.
Promises mean a lot to people because they suggest appreciation, value and empathy and carry some pleasure in fulfillment. The effect of broken promises is resentment, undue anxiety, missed opportunities and a lack of trust in future promises for one party, and a chain of guilt and feelings of incapacity and inadequacy for the other. Furthermore, a promise prevents alternative action being taken which means everyone loses out all round.
Broken promises also give a feeling of false competence, they keep the person stuck in a mode of regret and are rarely associated with success. The most successful people tend to value others and keep their word because it demonstrates integrity - a key attribute for achievement. Finally, if not handled sensitively, broken promises can cause ill feeling, damage friendships and even lose business.
For example, if David did not promise to call Sushma on various occasions, she would not wait for him to do it then feel disappointed when he didn't call. Neither would David end up feeling ‘hassled’ by her. By promising to call, it gave Sushma the perception that she was liked by him, that there was the possibility of a friendship and something pleasurable to anticipate. More importantly, Sushma might have called David instead!
It means they would have both benefited from the contact, it would have lessened their anxieties, especially when David was under pressure. He would not have felt obliged in any way to get in touch when he couldn't, and he would have felt much better about himself, his capabilities and his outtling power. The first call would also have sorted out whether they wanted to talk again to any extent, which would have helped both parties to move on more briskly in one way or another.
Sometimes the habits we develop over a lifetime can be very limiting both in their effect on us and on others. Most people don't mind a broken promise odd occasions. We all do it at times through the pressure of living. But if it becomes a pattern then it becomes part of our personality and is a pointer to how we treat others for our own feeling of power. It really does not suggest enough respect for the person on the receiving end and would also be irritating to them to some measure.
Some Tips for Keeping Promises
First, if you find yourself prone to breaking promises, ask yourself why and try to limit your promises in any one day. It means you will only do it when you feel genuine, you will have more chance of carrying it out, especially if you are not committed to too many people, and it will be appreciated even more. If you have no intention of calling someone, or doing something for them, DON'T promise it. They won't be anxiously waiting and you won't have any guilt. It might boost your fragile ego and esteem to keep people dangling, but it only upsets everyone in the end.
Second, the best kind of friendship and approach is doing a job or favour when you FEEL like it, and not if you feel obliged. Nothing should feel forced or pressured. Third, have a look at the three reasons above for not keeping your promises and try to remedy whichever one applies to you. If you are breaking your promises repeatedly to one person, chances are you are probably doing the same to others. It not only leaves some unhappy people in its wake but it merely destroys your credibility in the process. We are all very busy people but the main thing to bear in mind is that, with time being very limited, nothing is more important than our interaction with another human being.
Just think that if you promised a dear friend or relative to call them and you didn't do it, and then he/she died the next day, you would never forget that for the rest of your life! So ALWAYS try to keep a promise or don't make one at all.
Desire for Approval
It is our desire for approval why we make promises to too many people and then end up not keeping any, which then makes us feel worse and loses us our friends. It was Bill Cosby who said: “I do not know the secret of success, but the secret of failure is trying to please too many people all the time!" Not only have I never forgotten that, but I live my life by it every day.
My aim is not to please too many people at all but to make a real difference to just ONE person each day which makes me feel great as well. It means not only will that promise carry more meaning and pleasure for both of us, but in any one year I would also have affected the lives of 365 people positively rather than try to please 5 per day and end up pleasing none.
If you value someone's friendship, or truly respect them, or you value your customers, don't make promises you can't keep because it could have an impact on them that even you are unable to foresee!
ELAINE SIHERA (Ms Cyprah - http://www.myspace.com/elaineone ) is an expert author, media contributor and columnist. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University, Elaine is a CONSULTANT for Diversity Management, Personal Empowerment and Relationships. Dynamic extrovert with a passion for living and people. Author of: 10 Easy Steps to Growing Older Disgracefully; 10 Easy Steps to Finding Your Ideal Soulmate!; Money, Sex & Compromise and Managing the Diversity Maze, among others (available on http://www.amazon.co.uk ). Also the founder of the British Diversity Awards and the Windrush Achievement Awards.