If you want to be known as a person of integrity you must keep your promises and meet your commitments.

This means making promises and agreeing to commitments which are realistic for you and with which you are comfortable: and saying no to requests you cannot handle.  When you make realistic commitments people will learn that you are reliable and can be trusted to do what you say you will do. Their respect for you will grow and your relationships with them will improve.

Reliability and integrity are the basis for good personalrelationships, as well as those with friends and at work.  They are also an essential part of providing good customer service.

In the conversation that follows Sophie is given a commitment by a panel beater who is repairing some damage to her car. Unfortunately it is a commitment that he cannot meet.

It was early on Monday morning and Sophie was dropping her car off for repair after she had been involved in a minor collision.

‘Can I have it back by Friday?’ she asked. ‘I need it for the weekend.’

‘No problem. It should be ready for you on Thursday afternoon.’ The panel beater replied. ‘We’ll call you during the week to confirm.’

By late Wednesday, Sophie had heard nothing and decided to follow up.  ‘Is my car still on schedule for tomorrow?’ she asked.

‘Yes I think so’ was the reply.  ‘We’ve got the parts.  We just have to fit them and then it goes to the paint shop and then…’

‘Hold on’ Sophie interrupted. ‘Today’s Wednesday.  Are you sure you’ll have it done for tomorrow?’

‘Don’t worry.  I’m giving it priority. It will be in the paint shop today and then we’ll polish it tomorrow.  We’ll call and let you know.’

Sophie hung up with some misgivings. The next morning she called again, ‘How’s my car doing?’

‘Well, it’s coming out of the paint shop this morning, then it just has to go for polishing and…’

Sophie’s exasperation was showing. ‘But you said it would be ready today! It doesn’t sound like that will happen.’

‘No, well, you see, we have to allow drying time, and it’s taken a bit longer…let’s plan for tomorrow.’

On Friday morning Sophie called again. ‘I’m sorry’ the now familiar voice answered, ‘I don’t think we’re going to make it for today. We’ve been very busy this week… I’m sure we can do it for Monday…’

Straight talk tips on this conversation

This interchange is likely to sound painfully familiar. It takes place any time someone commits to doing something, without properly thinking through the implications of what they have agreed.

Assurances are given first, followed by excuses as the agreed deadline approaches. Finally, the supplier has to admit he cannot keep his commitment.

Sophie is stressed by the unreliability of the supplier; and the supplier is stressed by the constant pressure from his frustrated client.

All of this could have been avoided with a more realistic estimate from the beginning, and the words, ‘No, I can’t do it for Friday’.

Conversations in which you say no can be short, direct and quite simple, in contrast to those in which you give bland assurances or make excuses and apologies. In the next conversation Sophie avoids making a commitment she feels would be unrealistic.

‘Can I have it by Friday?’ Sophie’s manager asked on Monday morning as he finished explaining the report he needed her to prepare.

‘Let me think’ she said. ‘It’s going to take some internet research; and I’ll have to phone around for some of the data. That will take a couple of days. Then there’s the report itself to write as well as the PowerPoint presentation. And this week I’ve also got to get the monthly report out, and it can’t be late.It’s going to be tight. Can we plan for Monday afternoon? I’ll let you know by Friday morning how I’m doing.’

Straight talk tips on this conversation

One of the most important steps in responding to a request is to take time to think through exactly what is required.  Showing that you are doing so provides reassurance that whatever decision you come to is not being made lightly.  Sophie’s three words say it all: ‘Let me think’.

She also considers the impact this request will have on other deadlines.

When she offers her manager a carefully considered, alternative deadline, he can see for himself the basis for her decision.  Apologies are not necessary.

Offering a progress report well before the deadline is reassuring. If all goes smoothly Sophie has an opportunity to bring her deadline forward.

No one likes to say no. In the short term, it’s often easier to go along with what others want than it is to stand up for yourself. It’s also easier to give excuses than it is to speak plainly about what you feel and need. Saying no can be difficult, even scary, but being prepared, and planning what you want to say makes it easier.

Whatever the circumstances, the longer you agree to be imposed upon, the more difficult it becomes for you ever to stand up for yourself. Being truthful about what you feel and need allows you to maintain your integrity.

But it also carries risks. You may lose people from your life, those who value you mainly because of what you do for their lives, and those who are too self-centred to notice or care about the effect of their behaviour on you.

In the long run, however, speaking up for yourself and mastering the fine art of saying no makes for better health and better relationships.

This conversation is adapted from material in Straight Talk: how to manage conversations that scare you, published by Struik, 2011. For more information go to www.straight-talk.co.za

Related posts

Leave a Reply