How to Elicit Effective Commitments (8.2)


"Do or do not... There is no try."

Your well-formed request demands a clear response. There are only three clear answers you should accept from your counterpart:

1. Yes, I commit.
2. No, I decline.
3. I can't commit yet because,
a. I need clarification.
b. I need to check; I promise to respond by X.
c. I want to propose an alternative.
d. I can only make it only if I get Y by Z.

Anything else is a weasel promise that you should reject.

Here are some interesting ways by which people may often pretend to accept your request while in reality not committing:

  • Yes, I'll try.
  • OK, let me see what I can do.
  • Seems doable.
  • Let me check into it.
  • Someone will take care of it.
  • We'll do our best.

It is essential that if you get any of these answers you confront your counterpart to clarify the commitment.

What Does It Mean?

When your counterpart tells you, "I commit," he assumes the responsibility to honor his word unconditionally. He takes on an obligation to deliver on his promise; or if he can't, to do his best to let you know early take care of you.

When your counterpart tells you, "I decline," she might still try to do what you asked her, but she doesn't commit. She does not give you the right to hold her accountable for a promise. It is much better to have a clear "no" than to get bogged down in a wishy-washy "I'll do my best," or a non-committal, "Let me see what I can do."

When your counterpart is not ready to say "yes" or "no" right away, he may:

  • Ask for clarification if the request is unclear to him. For example, if you ask me to help me with a project, I might ask, "What kind of help do you need?" or, "When do you need my help?"

  • Promise to respond by a certain time if your counterpart needs to check her resources, obtain commitments from others, or assess whether she can deliver to your specifications. For example, if you ask me to prepare a report, I might answer, "Let me check if I have the information available. I'll get back to you in an hour."
  • Counteroffer with an alternative proposal to satisfy the need behind the request. For example, if you ask me to meet today, I might respond: "I am not available today. Could we meet tomorrow? Or if it's urgent, we could speak by phone."
  • Commit conditionally if your counterpart's commitment depends on factors outside of her control. For example, if you ask me deliver a rush order, I can commit to do it only if you authorize me to pay my crew overtime.
  • In the following video you can see how to keep the commitment conversation on track by identifying and accepting only clear answers to your requests.

    * Should you have difficulty viewing please click here to view on Slideshare.

    The Second Yes

    As David Schoof describes in "The Second Yes", in many cultures there is a strong desire to please, attend to the relationship, or at the very least convey a "can-do" intention. So when you ask someone to do something you get a resounding "yes," but then the deadline arrives and ... nothing.

    You could feel self-righteous and blame the other for lack of integrity, but that wouldn't improve things. It would be a victim story.

    To be more effective, as David says, when you suspect you may be getting a "yes" to your request that is too quick, or possibly an I-want-to-do-this-for-you-but-I'm-not-sure-I-can kind of "Yes", is to:

    1. Thank the person for the initial yes --sending the message that you are grateful they have a desire to help you.

    2. Confirm that he is consciously making a "firm promise" (and I use the words "firm promise" rather than commitment because of their personal and moral connotation) to deliver what you've asked at the time you've asked.

    3. Set a process check where we assess the state of the promise and the expectation of delivery on time.

    Readers: Are there expectations you hold about other people delivering to you where you need to check for the seriousness and clarity of their commitments?

    Fred Kofman, Ph.D. in Economics, is Vice President at Linkedin. This post is part 2.1. of Linkedin's Conscious Business Program. You can find the introduction and structure of this program here. To stay connected and get updates join our LinkedIn Group: Conscious Business Friends.

    You can Follow Fred Kofman on LinkedIn here.