Motivation Postscript – Excuses and Justifications

There is one last piece to the motivation story. It’s about what happens when people agree to do something by a certain time, then don’t do it and don’t let you know in advance that they aren’t going to be able to do it.

These people have learned – from their parents, teachers, and bosses – that this is OK as long as you have a good Reason for not delivering what you promised when you promised it. Actually, some people don’t even bother with a Reason, they just tell you they will do something and then they forget about it. Maybe they expect you to follow up, or maybe they don’t think they did anything as extreme as “making a promise” – hey, it was just a thought, right?

In either case, what you need to remember is that people are trainable. It just means you have to invest a little more time in making 3 things very clear to them:

  1. You plan to treat what they have said they will do as a Promise, not just a thought. You have to let them know this at the time they say they will do something. EXAMPLE: Them – “I will call you tomorrow.” You – “I will expect your call before 3:00 PM. I appreciate your promising to do that.”  Dropping the “promise” word into what you say makes a difference.
  2. When the call doesn’t come, and you know they’ve either forgotten or blown it off, prepare your next communication and deliver it promptly. EXAMPLE: “I was disappointed when you didn’t keep your promise to call me by 3:00 PM today. We need to find a way to talk clearly with each other, so neither of us is left expecting something that isn’t going to happen.”
  3. When they give you a Reason (or justification, or excuse), even if it’s a pretty good one, let them know you are going to start counting. EXAMPLE: “OK, I understand. But I still think we need to have clearer communication. This one time is alright, and I can let it go. If you can’t keep your word again though, it is going to be like “Strike Two” for me, and I’m likely to be cautious about believing you will do what you say next time. I don’t want to even consider what happens after that. We really need to work together to improve our ways of talking to each other , don’t you think?”

That last question makes an opening for them to respond to the idea of adding this much rigor to your conversations. You can adjust your tone and intensity to be appropriate – maybe they want to learn how to upgrade their communication, or maybe the whole idea of anybody taking them seriously strikes them as absurd or even infuriating.

Don’t give up. People are trainable. But if you keep accepting being blown off or tolerating excuses, you are training them in the wrong direction. Stick to your guns: honor your word, and support other people in seeing that it is possible – and beneficial – to do that too. It’s motivational because it gets people moving.

1 reply
  1. Josh Cohen
    Josh Cohen says:

    Sooooo important to tell those impacted that something won’t happen as soon as it’s known … to keep the integrity in “one’s word.” Excellent series, Laurie!

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