Join Fred Kofman for an in-depth discussion in this video Making a commitment, part of Fred Kofman on Managing Conflict.
- Have you ever been in a meeting where everybody gives the nod, and then nothing happens? Everybody says, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." And then nothing happens. Generally, that's the consequence of a statement like, "Are we all in agreement?" "Yeah, yeah we're all in agreement. "We all agree." Well, agreement is worthless without commitment. Unless you get people to promise that they will do something by a certain date with some very definite conditions of satisfaction, the agreement is very unlikely to create action and to create results.
I can not tell you how many times I've been in meetings where somebody expressed a thought like, "Someone ought to do something about this. "This can't continue." "Yeah, yeah, this can't continue." And then the next week, it'd be like, "Did someone do something?" And then everybody (laughs) is looking at the others like, "No, I didn't. "No, I didn't." "Oh, come on, someone should!" "Yeah, yeah, someone should, okay, "come on guys, let's do it!" "Yes, yes, let's do it." Now, it never turns into action.
A CEO once asked me to work with a senior vice president that had the reputation for being just emotionally unintelligent, a person that was too irritable, a yeller, a person that was disrespectful, that was just angry, so I said, "Okay," you know, I talked to this person, I'll call him John. And I went to see a meeting that John was leading with his staff. And essentially, the whole meeting went like this: John would say, "Walter, did you finish this report?" And Walter said, "No, I'm sorry, I couldn't get it done." And then it was like (screaming) "How could you do that?! "We expect you to do it! "You have to do that report!" And Walter would just be quiet, and, "Oh, for next week, you have to bring the report!" "Yeah, okay, okay." And then he moved to the next, "Nancy, how about you? "What's the status of?" "Oh, well, I couldn't really check it." "You couldn't check it again?" (yelling) And then he would just go into this tirade about how Nancy's never doing anything, and Nancy would just be quiet and say, "Sure, I'll do it for next week." And I mean the whole meeting was like that.
I couldn't believe it. Now, this guy was kind of proud of his tough attitude, and at the end, he said, "So, what do you think?" Almost like tongue-in-cheek like, "Yeah, they sent you to fix me? "What do you think?" And I told him, "Look, I think you're loud, "but you're not really tough." He said, "Well, what?!" That got his attention. "Yeah, you're very loud, you yell, that's clear. "But you're very easy to manage." "What do you mean?!" "Well, people are just quiet, they let you yell, "and they still don't do things.
"You're not sharp. "You're not tough. "You're simply being angry. "But that's not producing results. "Do you want to learn how to produce results?" And he said, "Yeah. "What should I do different?" I said, "Let me give you an example. "I'll play you. "You be one of these persons." "Okay, Fred, I didn't do it." I said, "Why not?" "Well, I couldn't get to it." I said, "But you gave me a promise last week "that you would do it. "How can I trust your integrity?" And he stopped, and he just opened his eyes and said, "I see what you mean.
"That's really tough." I said, "Yeah, I'm not being loud. "I'm being tough." In order to be tough like that, you need a promise. If you don't have a promise, you can't call the other person on their promise. You can't call a person on an agreement. You have to move from agreement to commitment, and the way you do that is by a request. So after the conversation ended, you make a request. You say, "So, I ask you to go with me "to visit the customer on Thursday afternoon.
"Are you okay with that?" And if the person says yes, say, "Okay, now I have your firm commitment "that on Thursday in the afternoon, "we are going to go see the customer. "Thank you." Now if that person doesn't show up on Thursday afternoon to see the customer, you have a legitimate complaint, because they broke their word. You have them on their word, not on your yelling or on your demand. What you ask is not that important. It's like I write a contract, I can not hold you accountable to the contract I wrote unless you sign it.
So the commitment is actually the signature on the contract. We sign together, we say, "This is what you are going to do, "this is what I am going to do by this date, "and we can demand each other "and hold each other accountable, "because it's our word on the line." But the promise is a guarantee that you will not be surprised. If I make a promise to you, I'm promising two things: I will do my best to accomplish what I told you I was going to deliver, but if I can not accomplish it, I will let you know.
I will apologize. I will take care of you. That's the deepest commitment, the commitment to integrity. So when you move from agreement to a commitment, what you're engaging is people's integrity to take care about one another, of one another. So if you promise me something, I want you to take care of me. If you can not do it, you let me know, you ask me how could I make it better, how could I reduce the damage, and then you listen to me, and you negotiate with me a recommitment.
But that's ultimately what creates effectiveness in the conversation, that we don't just finish with, "Okay, we'll try." No, there's no try. There's do or there's not do, but there's no try. I think I heard that line somewhere. (laughs) So you know, you want to be like Yoda and make sure there's promise and there's no promise, there's no such thing as half promise. So you want to finish the conversation about the agreement with a shift to who is going to do what by when.
Let's make sure we're clear on who commits to take what actions, and then we'll follow up to see if we can perform these actions. That's what takes the conflict into a full solution.
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