Do you believe a man or woman’s word is their bond? I grew up believing that, but it seems to me we have moved a long way from that position. Broken promises, especially in seemingly small matters, are the rule not the exception, or so it seems.

In too many cases we are judged by the promises we make, more than our commitment to keep it. In a strange way, the person who keeps promises stands so above the crowd, that to become known as someone who keeps their word is a competitive advantage. I am not referring to contracts and legal matters, but to the day-to-day promises in normal business discourse.

We hear it all the time: "Don’t overpromise and underdeliver," which in itself is redundant. After all, if you overpromise, you have underdelivered. Another way to say it is: "Keep your word." This simple and common practice of doing what you say you will do is fundamentally just good manners, but today it is a self-branding advantage. A reputation for keeping your promises will elevate you to one who by today’s standards provides unexpected service.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that the idea that a person’s word is their bond is no longer a respected way to do business.

Last week I had a friend tell me he was going to call someone for an appointment "by the end of the week." "Are you really going to call him?" I asked with obvious trepidation. He looked me straight in the eye and said, "My word is my bond." But, I still did not know if he meant it.

Today I saw him and he reminded me that he called and got the appointment. "Like I said, David, my word is my bond." The next time he tells me he is going to do it, I know he will do it. He will do what he says he will. My respect for him has increased greatly, not because he did anything exceptional, but because he kept his promise. If he can be counted on in the small things, he can be depended on for larger things, would you agree?

But in today’s world of texting and emails, a man’s word just does not seem to mean what it used to mean. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because texting and emails are so impersonal. Or is it because we would rather end the conversation politely without running the risk we will not be liked? Is it possible that protecting the feelings of the caller is more important than being honest?

Broken promises for the most part are part of normal conversations, where promises are made with intentions of being kept, perhaps, but if not, no big deal. Like these:

"Great. Let’s continue this conversation next week. I will call you early next week." Really?

"Excuse me, I just got a call I have to take, may I call you back first thing in the morning?" Do you really expect that call? Neither do I.

"We are definitely going to buy from you. We will call you Monday." Ever had them not call you?

Why do we make promises and don’t keep them rather than apologizing and letting them die a natural death? I have reason to believe promise-making is an escape mechanism for those who are becoming uncomfortable with the conversation and want to end it without being forced to make a commitment be it ever so small.

Recently a person who admittedly lies on purpose told me the truth about why she makes promises she has no intention of keeping. She says that she does not like confrontation and that she would rather do what it takes to get the caller off the phone, especially if she starts feeling pressure, than upset the customer. "I am sometimes caught in the middle; I don’t want to upset the client. My goal is to make the client glad they are doing business with our company."

Does this excuse broken promises? Evidently, it does. No apologies. No nothing.

Before we get too judgmental, let me ask you a question. Have you ever given a "feel good" positive answer to get out of the conversation you are having? You may have a habit of doing so and don’t realize it.

Maybe this is the reason so many emails begin with the reminder that the writer is keeping a promise made when they start the email with "As promised, here is …" I do not have to be reminded that the person who made the promise kept it. Do you? I am startled.

We may forget the promises we made, but we are hard-put to forget a promise made to us. My guess is you can remember broken promises that were very upsetting and disappointing, leading to a lack of respect for and trust in the person who broke it. This memory alone should help us renew our efforts to keep our promises and apologize when we do not.

Of course, the most honest approach would be to tell the caller the truth, kindly, if we are not interested in the product or service, rather than leave the caller thinking that we actually want to do business with him when we actually don’t.

You have my word on that.

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