Friday, May 22, 2009

Implied, Inferred, and Actual Commitment-Making

Over in the Q&A section of LinkedIn, Brian asked,

"What are the subjects of the more difficult or challenging conversations that you have at work?"

Here's how I replied:

I think many (most?) difficult or challenging conversations result from IMPLIED or INFERRED commitment-making in lieu of *ACTUAL* commitment-making.

(1) ACTUAL Commitment-making – this is when Person A specifically requests that Person B do something … and Person B specifically agrees to do it.

Example:
Person A: You’ll turn in your report by noon, right?
Person B: Yes, I will.

Now if Person B doesn't deliver, Person A has every right to hold Person B accountable … and Person B knows it. No fuss. No muss. Just guilty, as charged.

(2) IMPLIED Commitment-making – this is when Person A does *not* make a specific request, but *assumes* that Person B knows what s/he wants, anyway.

Example:
Person A: You’ll turn in your report *soon*, right?
Person B: Yes, I will.

Now because Person A never said it out loud, Person B has no idea that *soon* means “by noon”. So when Person B doesn't turn in the report until several hours later, Person A feels wronged, and fully justified in blaming Person B. Person B, feeling totally blindsided (again), justifiably blames Person A back and the conversation immediately becomes exceedingly more difficult and challenging.

(3) INFERRED Commitment-making – this is when Person A *does* make a specific request, but Person B answers in such a way that it seems s/he’s made a commitment, but actually has not.

Example:
Person A: You’ll turn in your report by noon, right?
Person B: I understand you want it by then.

Note that Person B never actually committed to turning the report in by noon, s/he really just acknowledged the request. And as with IMPLIED Commitment-making, when Person B doesn't turn in the report until several hours later, Person A feels wronged, and fully justified in blaming Person B. Person B, feeling totally blindsided (again), justifiably blames Person A back and the conversation becomes exceedingly more difficult and challenging.

The key, then, is to insure (and confirm) that all commitments are ACTUAL commitments … not IMPLIED commitments ... not INFERRED commitments ... but ACTUAL commitments.

Just to be sure, I also recommend asking for the following CONFIRMING commitment:

“If for some reason you cannot honor this commitment you just made, will you be sure to let me know ahead of time so that I can make other arrangements?”

Doing so makes the follow-up conversation, if the deliverable is missed, far *less* difficult or challenging. No fuss. No muss. Just guilty, as charged.

Hope this helps.

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Related: www.employee-discussions.com

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