Dear Diary –
Well, it’s been quite a week. After 7 days of heightened attention on my interpersonal communication skills I can’t say I feel I’ve made much progress. Aside from some encouraging email from a few friends cheering me on in my (decades old) quest to improve myself, there’s no indication that a complete transformation of my relationships in imminent. Nevertheless, this is a marathon, not a sprint, so I remain committed to this path.
My last blog, Dear Diary #3, was about conjuring action through clear commitment. Immediately after writing that blog I was engulfed in a sea of commitments that I had made over the past couple of months. I had to wake up at 4:30 AM Saturday morning in order to make a 6:53 AM flight on my way to Tokyo, and with my packing still undone Friday night, I was looking down the barrel of a half dozen broken promises. What’s a person who’s word is their bond to do? Yup, I decided to stay up until 3 AM getting all of it done. Now, I love my sleep, and I sure do intend to make a lot fewer promises this year as a result of this recent reminder of how much I detest waking up after only 1.5 hours of sleep, but I did follow up on every one of those commitments before laying my head oh so briefly on that luscious pillow.
The fourth and final step in improved communication guarantees that the future envisioned and committed to is actually achieved, and strengthens relationships by building trust. It’s been said that trust is the residue of promises made and kept. Following up on our own commitments builds trust with others. Following up on the commitments others make to us supports them in maintaining our trust in them. FAILING to follow up on our own promises undermines our integrity and our self-esteem, as we usually know very well that we’ve chosen the sneaky path by letting something slide that should have been taken care of. And failing to follow up with others cruelly tempts them to do the same. I’d like to believe I’d do everything I commit to without the threat of follow up. But if I’m honest with myself I have to admit that I’m much more likely to follow through on a commitment I make if I know that the other person involved is going to be checking in with me to hold me accountable. It’s only fair to give other people that incentive by securing a follow up date by which I’ll be checking with them on their progress.
There are some people in this world, including myself, who will do what we’ve promised even if other people don’t bug us about it (maybe because we were raised Catholic and guilt is still a major motivator). But that’s absolutely not the norm (doing what we promised without being bugged, not being Catholic!). I’ve been working in project teams for over 20 years now, and I can tell you that commitments to action alone – without follow up – have been completed less than 30% of the time, whereas commitments with follow up accountability built into the agreement have had more than double that. That’s sending action items out in email (where you’re lucky if it’s even read, let alone done) is so ineffective, and keeping a permanent Action Item List for all to see pasted on the team wiki, and trotted out at every team meeting, results in much greater levels of follow through. Let’s face it, if I know I’m never going to see you again, and you are never going to check in with me to see if I did what I promised, I’m likely to prioritize that promise pretty darn low. Except for the guilt thing.
So, let’s review my plan for improving my relationships via vastly enhanced communication skills:
Step 1 – Categorize the kinds of conversations I’m having.
Step 2 – Escape the grip of the past by shifting my focus to the future.
Step 3 – Eschew weasel words and powerfully commit to take action!
Step 4 – If I expect “follow through”, plan on “follow up”.
OK, that should keep me busy for the next year. And I’m putting a reminder in my calendar every month so I’ll be following up with myself.
Keep it real! Keep it Scrappy! Keep it real Scrappy!
Kimberly Wiefling, Author, Scrappy Project Management