Taking Your Words Seriously
by Nan S. Russell 
Winning at Working

When we ordered the stained glass window as an accent piece for our home, the artist-proprietor told us he was a bit behind. ďSo," he said, ďto be on safe side, plan on six months." That was two years ago. We still donít have the window. Each time we call or stop in, he has yet another plausible reason why our project isnít done, the appropriate apology and a new promise of a delivery date. What he doesnít have is credibility.

Wishful promises donít cut it in small-town businesses or big-city corporations. It doesnít matter what role youíre in. If you tell me youíll do something, I expect you will do it whether youíre a business, an employee, a co-worker or my boss. Youíre the one setting my expectations, so why wouldnít I believe what you tell me?

It baffles me. Iíve found in twenty years of management few people meet or exceed the expectations they set and they control. Iím not talking about deadlines other people set for you. Iím talking about the ones you establish. Maybe itís because few people take their own words seriously. If you do you can differentiate yourself at work. People who consistently do what they say theyíre going to do, without sandbagging, are memorable. Theyíre the people with credibility. Theyíre the ones you want to hire and promote and do business with.

People fail to establish credibility without even knowing it. If someone tells me sheíll provide information by Friday, but what she meant was ďaround Friday," sheíll feel she met her obligation to me when she pushes send on her email Monday morning. Iíll view her as lacking credibility when the information for a project I wanted was late. However, if she told me Iíd get the information no later than Tuesday and delivered it on Monday, while her delivery date remains the same, her credibility soars. By managing the words that define what others can expect from you, you can surprise and delight your co-workers, boss, and customers.

To do that, replace casual-speak and wishful promises of what youíd like to have happen or believe can happen, with commitments of what will happen. But hereís the key. You canít commit what you canít control. If I tell a member of my staff heíll get his review next week, but I only control when I finish writing it not when itís approved, the likelihood of me failing to meet an expectation I set with him is strong. But if the review is written, signed by my boss, and in for processing at the time I set the expectation, Iíll meet it.

Our delinquent artisan could have called three months into the project, told us he accepted an unusual opportunity to restore an historic building, was putting his other projects on hold until that was complete, and offered us the choice of waiting until he resumed work or getting our deposit back. He could have preserved his credibility and the relationship.

Actions may speak louder than words. But itís our words that provide the backdrop for whether our actions measure up. If Iím your customer, your boss, or your co-worker, Iím taking your words seriously. I think you should, too.

(c) 2004 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved. 

Sign up to receive Nan's free biweekly eColumn at Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and on-line instructor. Visit htt:// or contact Nan at

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