Overpromising & Underdelivering

A while ago I was working on a project with a client and I was getting great feedback from them but I couldn’t figure out why. Quite frankly, I hadn’t done anything extraordinary or above and beyond recently, yet the client seemed especially impressed and appreciative of my work. So I went and asked someone else close to the project why they thought I was getting such positive feedback and her answer was almost embarrassingly simple, she said – you do what you say you’re going to do.

At first, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why there was such a positive reaction to simply doing what I said I was going to do when I said I was going to do it. That sounds pretty basic to me. However, she explained to me that that is actually a pretty rare quality, and the reason I was getting so much positive feedback from the other person was because he wasn’t used to working with people like that on his team.

Now, this sounds pretty ridiculous. I got positive feedback for just doing my job? Maintaining the status quo? But then I thought about it a little harder, and you know what? Actually doing what you say you’re going to do IS a rare quality.

Think about your average day for a moment. How many commitments do you make? Sure, I’ll have that report to you in an hour; I’ll call you right back; I’ll meet you at 6 for dinner; Of course, I’ll try that new recipe you sent me; etc. But we’re selfish creatures, if something else comes up, or if we get distracted, sometimes things fall off of our radar, or we’re late, or we completely forget about them.

But I almost never do that. From a professional perspective, I’m painstakingly organized, so it’s never like I’ll forget to do something. Additionally, I have a level of work ethic that I simply expect of myself. I don’t make unrealistic promises so if I say I will have something done by this day or this hour, it will be done by then no questions asked. From a personal perspective, I view it as an insult to waste someone’s time so I don’t like to be late or to cancel or reschedule things last minute. Furthermore, if I say I will take someone up on an invite or a recommendation, I will actually do it. I will actually come to see you, read the book, watch the show, or try the food you recommend because I view it as a perfect opportunity to try new things and strengthen relationships.

Maybe most of us don’t realize how many promises or committments we make in a day. We use words like ‘for sure’, ‘definitely’, ‘absolutely’, so that we technically can’t be told we promised to do something, but they still create an aura of accountability. When we don’t hold up our end of these proto-promises, it still creates these little micro disappointments. You can see them on your bosses face when you tell him you couldn’t get to something but you’ll do it now, or when your friend asks if you read that book she was raving about to you and you say you totally forgot about it.

I do what I say I will do. It’s done when I say it will be done. If I set a goal for myself, it gets done. I show up when I say I’ll show up. These things sound simple, but maybe they’re not. Maybe we’re all in the habit of overpromising and underdelivering and we’re afraid to face our actual productivity capabilities in a day? Or maybe it’s the socially acceptable thing to do – take on more than you can deliver? Or maybe none of us think hard enough about the little things we commit to others?

I can’t say how I developed the skill of doing what I say I’ll do. In my mind, if I say I’ll do it, there’s just no other option. Turns out, that earns me a lot more respect than I thought.

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AMAZING hot chocolate at Dandelion Cafe in SF – courtesy of Ashley Chung who never underdelivers as a friend 🙂 

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