Commitment is Rare In Business

Commitment, highlighted in red amongst a list of words, with a logo of interlocking rings.
Be purposeful with your commitments. It is a key to building and sustaining trust.

Commitment is rare. Building a culture of commitment in your organization accelerates trust.

People often avoid making small interpersonal commitments because they are risky. According to Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning and prolific academic, we value loss about twice as much as we value gains, thus it follows that we are more likely to avoid a negative experience resulting from a missed promise than to take the unnecessary risk of making a commitment. However, when you make commitments and keep them, even small promises, it builds trust faster. Being purposeful about the promises and commitments you make to your customers, your colleagues and your friends can transform your business and even your life. Building commitment into your culture and empowering your people to make measured and valuable commitments can have a big impact on how you earn trust. Companies often make contractual guarantees and issue warranties because they know how important commitments are, but the small promises that are made every day, through normal interactions can be just as important in helping your people and your firm earn trust from your customers. Lots of small, valuable interpersonal commitments add up, over time, and can be even more valuable to the people you serve than those big corporate commitments that we tout in our marketing materials. This small tactic also has the ability to transform your internal culture by boosting internal trust between colleagues. As long as the intent to keep them is certain.

The intent is critical here. Your Say:Do ratio has to be very close to 1:1. You do not, however, not need to be perfect. In fact, perfection in your commitments may indicate that you have a problem with perfection.

People trust imperfection with integrity way more than they trust a perfect façade.

Occasionally, you will miss-calculate your priorities and you will fail to keep a commitment. Everyone knows and recognizes that life happens. This is a good thing, as it demonstrates a little authentic vulnerability, again, as long as your original intent to keep your promise was firm. When you take the energy to reset the promise and clean up any inconveniences created as a result of your miss-calculation, you have an opportunity to earn even more trust. It tells the promissee that you are committed and doing your best, to stretching, to learning, and to some amount of authentic vulnerability. It sends a specific message that you are human and thus imperfect, but that you care about your commitments and the impact they have on the life of the person you are working with. It is difficult to trust wishy-washiness, loose and apathetic commitments. We trust more powerfully when commitments are made with a positive intent to fulfill them.

Minimum Valuable Promisses: Bold, small interpersonal commitments that make a difference every day speed the creation of trust by demonstrating that you care and are competent.

Here is a basic thought experiment to explain how this works:

At some point in your personal history, you have visited a website that added value to the problem that we were trying to solve, and you may have been prompted to sign up for the organization’s newsletter or noticed the signup box in the upper right-hand corner of their screen. Suppose you were willing to exchange your name and email address for some evaluable content from these smart folks. Now, imagine experiencing these two different scenarios:

Scenario A: Give us your email address and we will send you our newsletter. You enter your email address.

>> The site pop-ups an intermodal message box that says thank you for your email address.

Nothing out of the ordinary here. Your expectations are met. It’s not memorable. Maybe you will get a newsletter, maybe not. Maybe you will even read it, maybe not.

Scenario B: Give us your email address and we promise to send you the latest and greatest content in <this ecosystem that you care about> on the second business Monday of each month. You enter your email address.

>> They pop-up the last newsletter in an unobtrusive intermodal window with a message at the top that says: “We promised that you would be getting the best, most relevant content in this ecosystem that you care about. Here is what it will look like. Thank you for signing up.” >> In parallel, that the sent, immediately to your inbox, a similar message including the last newsletter. You can look forward to on our next newsletter on <Date.>”

Note how that second scenario made you feel. The simple act of making a promise and keeping it can powerfully impact trust. The difference in the amount of trust that was earned in that small interaction was almost palpable. The language you use and the information that you include in these commitments makes all of that difference.

Here is a simple checklist for your commitments that will make sure they are worthwhile:

[ ] Use the language of commitment. Saying “We promise to X” or “We commit to Y.” Using this language maximizes the emotional impact because these words have a powerful, shared meaning for people.

[ ] Make sure the commitment is as specific and complete as possible. Without a specific action and a specific timeframe that includes a day and a time, it is much less powerful. When we include a specific timeframe, it reduces the cognitive load that the promissee feels when trying to determine their own future in the context of the commitment.

[ ] Verify that the commitment is valuable to your customer. Your promises may be more powerful if your customer is not expecting them from you. More importantly, make sure you think through the impact of your promise on the promisee’s life. If the promise does not have a material impact, it has the potential to reduce trust by making you look foolish. If you make commitments to things that are expected, you can also stand to reduce trust. For example, it would be silly to promise to show up to a meeting on time.

[ ] Honor the commitment. If you make promises that you do not have the ability to keep, you are much better off not making the commitment in the first place. Make sure you fully intend to keep the promise or are fully willing to make things right if you cannot. Be firm and be certain

[ ] Use the language of commitment when fulfilling your promise. For example: “We promised X; here we are keeping our promise.” Be careful that your language does not work against you by sounding or feeling like it is scripted, as this has the potential to reduce trust by making it feel less personal, and thus less authentic.

Here is a downloadable version you can print:

Image of the Minimum Valuable Promises Checklist
Minimum Valuable Promises Checklist

On your quest to minimize the amount of time it takes to earn trust from your customers and colleagues, analyze each experience you produce for them to figure out how to earn as much trust in each interaction as possible. Search for the minimum valuable commitments that you can make to your customers. Teach the people around you how and when to make those commitments and experiment with the language to learn how to maximize trust with your clients and your colleagues.

Commitment is one of many ways to earn trust faster. Check out my article on Gaining Trust for some more tactics.

Trust = Reputation + Commitment + Consistency + Transparency + Vulnerability + Listening with logos for each in math format
Trust = Reputation + Commitment + Consistency + Transparency + Vulnerability + Listening with logos for each in math format
Trust Formula

Thanks for reading. Claps, shares, and forwards honored!

References and Further Reading:

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey

Gaining Trust by Sean Flaherty

How to Measure Trust by Sean Flaherty

Technologist. Philosopher. Inspirer.

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