Intentions are certainly important when you are on a team. In the 1995 movie entitled Apollo 13, actor Tom Hanks plays the role of Jim Lovell, the commander of the ill-fated mission to land on the moon. After an explosion aboard the spaceship eliminates the possibility of a lunar landing, the three-man crew circles the moon and then needs to head directly back toward earth.
When Lovell’s other two crew members see the moon right out their spacecraft window, they start to talk about “what might have been.” Suddenly, Lovell asks a simple question,
“Gentlemen, what are your intentions?”
The commander’s question helped the other astronauts realize that there was no time to gaze at the moon. If they had any intentions of making their way back to earth alive, they had to shift their attention immediately.
Most of us do not face “life or death” situations that force us to clarify and focus our intentions. Perhaps that explains why so many of us “promise” to do things without a true intention (or commitment) to actually follow through.
Having Clear Intentions
In our coaching business, we ask clients to make “commitments” to do certain things to accelerate progress toward their goals. Most clients sign our Coaching Agreements without question. Does a signature on a piece of paper equal a “clear intention” to actually follow through on expectations? Far too often the answer is “no.”
Let’s look at a couple of simple expectations of clients that we include in a typical “Coaching Agreement.”
- Contact your coach if you are unable to make a coaching appointment. Except for emergencies or urgent matters, provide 24 hours’ notice for cancellations.
- Complete reading or other “coaching homework” between coaching sessions.
On the surface, it would seem that signing a Coaching Agreement would be a clear sign of intention to follow through. Yet, clients often tend to “cherry pick” the list of commitments – following through on some, while being much less reliable about others. Sound like anyone you know?
Reasons Intentions May Not Be Promises
There are a variety of reasons why someone might fail to follow through on what appears to be a promise. Here are a few examples:
- The person truly intended to follow through, yet something else in their life became more urgent or important.
- The person said “yes” in good faith, yet underestimated the time commitment to actually fulfill the promise. For example, a reading assignment took much more time than anticipated.
- The person said “yes” without a clear intention to hold to their promise. Sometimes, we find that parents of college clients do not establish clear consequences for broken promises. A parent might tell us that their son “isn’t good at doing what he says he’ll do.” To us, this often comes across as, “This is just the way my son is! You have to get used to it!”
- The person never actually said, “yes.” If someone says, “I’ll do my best” or “I’ll try,” that is usually a sure sign that his or her intentions are not clear.
As you can see, a person signing a document or saying that he will do something can mean different things to different people. As a coach, I may believe that a client has made a promise. Yet, my client may see it another way!
Let’s call that an “expectations gap” – when what felt like a promise was something less!
Strategies for Increasing Follow-Through on Promises
So, how can we increase the probability that others will keep their promises?
In our experience, people are more likely to deliver on promises when we do one or more of the following things:
- Ask them to write down verbal commitments as they make them. In our experience, when people don’t write down commitments, they are much less likely to deliver on them.
- Ask them to send you an electronic message by a specific time that same day. It should summarize actions they have committed to take. When someone reinforces a commitment in writing, it clearly cuts down on the number of “I forgot” excuses you will hear.
- Tell them that it is a “big deal” to you when people fail to do what they have agreed to do. Say that you are aware that some people may not be as concerned about such things. Yet, emphasize how lack of follow-through lowers trust in your relationship.
- Model what you expect of others. Do what you have committed to do. Show up on time and be as prepared as you said you would be!
- Explain that good intentions are not enough. Failure to deliver or give advance notice, still creates a negative impact. In the U.S. Navy, “No Show, No Call” is labeled “Absent Without Leave” (AWOL). AWOL is a very big deal in the military, as it should be!
- Ask them to put themselves in your shoes. For example, you might say, “Mary, how do you think it affected me when you failed to call in on time for two out of your last three appointments?” Set boundaries and don’t let others off the hook when they do not keep their commitments. What we accept and what we ignore teaches others how to treat us!
How Do Intentions and Promises Apply to You?
While I’ve used examples of how clients may not follow through with intentions and promises when working with a coach, these same principles certainly apply to almost any type of relationship. In a work setting, co-workers or direct reports may fail to do what you understood to be a clear intention or promise. It could be a friend or family member who does not follow through.
If you would like some coaching on how to help others follow through on intentions and promises, please contact us. If you struggle with following through on your own intentions and promises, we can help you with that, too!
We also welcome your comments (below) on this post.