“If you cultivate the habit of always keeping the promises you make, you build bridges of trust that span the gaps of understanding between you and others.” Stephen R Covey
Specifically covered by The Second Resolution, the making, and more pertinently, the keeping of promises is an excellent example of great character.
When you make a promise you create an expectation in someone else upon which they place reliance that you will do what you say you will do. As a result, they make plans, commitments, or promises of their own.
Which means that when we break a promise, we have a greater effect on the relationship than perhaps we considered when we changed our mind about our commitment. We didn’t just ‘not do’ something for X – we possibly prevented them from doing something for someone else, or enjoying some event, or earning income. In that decision to break a promise, we broke that relationship, possibly for good. And we may have affected our fellow’s relationships with others, too.
Of course some promises cannot be kept, for reasons outside our control. But even then, there are those who, rather than communicate the new change in circumstance, elect to say nothing and hope no-one notices.
There are character-based ways to prevent the breaking of a promise, or to ameliorate that breakage, however.
First of all – be careful about making the promise in the first place. Be absolutely positive that you will come through on the commitment you are making, without fail.
Next – before making a commitment, consider all the factors surrounding it. Who’s involved? Where? How? What are the time considerations, the legalities, the ethics, and so on? What could happen to prevent completion on the deal? If there is a problem anticipated, then either don’t make the promise, or make sure the conditions for keeping it are made absolutely clear.
And if you absolutely must break the promise, communicate the fact and the reason immediately it arises. Don’t leave someone in hope that you will come through, when you know that you won’t.
I am a bit of a freak when it comes to punctuality. I accept watches can be a bit ‘out’, by a minute or so – but after about 5-10 minutes, you are late and you have communicated to me that I, or my needs, are secondary. If you have a mobile phone (and who doesn’t, these days?), PHONE ME and let me know you’ll be late, and why. I don’t need to be upset or angry, so make sure I’m not.
In the end, character is about integrity. While honesty means matching your words to your deeds, integrity means matching your deeds to your words. What you say, I accept to be so. Let me down once – I doubt you from then on.
Don’t let people down with your mouth.