The importance of keeping and honoring your Word

I have a close friend who’s a very good person. His intentions are honorable. He means well. His heart means well. But, he rarely follows through on what he says. It used to make me crazy. Now I just don’t take anything he says seriously, which he doesn’t like. I know he means what he says when he says it but his busy life gets in his way and he forgets. I’ve gotten many complaints from people whose friend is the same way. It’s very annoying when you wait for something based on someone’s word and it doesn’t happen.

Even if it’s a good person like my friend, someone who regularly doesn’t keep their word shouldn’t be tolerated if it bothers you a lot.

My friend has lots of friends since he is a great guy in most others respects. According to him, most don’t care about his “bad habit” of speaking with no follow through. Oh well, I do! Does this mean I should blow him off or get angry at him? No! I do however, readjust my ears when he makes promises. I don’t expect anything and if he occasionally follows through, great. If he doesn’t, I didn’t expect it.

Since you can’t change anyone but yourself, it’s up to you to change your response to people who don’t keep their word.

So I stopped taking anything my friend said seriously. Then one night he was ready on the follow through but I wasn’t. “But I told you we’d do this tonight” he said. I reminded him that most of the time what he said didn’t happen, so I didn’t take anything he said seriously and I couldn’t go with him. The next day he sent me a scathing email defending his integrity, which I didn’t question. I do trust him as a person, but not to follow through on what he says.

He asked how dare I say that. His other friends all value his friendship. Why don’t I?

“Because I can’t count on you” I said when I called him. I prefer to speak than write on touchy subjects. I did want him as a friend, but I also needed to set boundaries. I very nicely explained all the specific times he made verbal plans and didn’t even cancel when he couldn’t’ make it. And the promises that we’d do this and that but we never did this and that. We never discussed it again but guess what? He began to follow through. Each time he said we’d do something, I’d say, “Oh sure,” with obvious skepticism. He was determined to prove me wrong, which I was thrilled about, since I do value him.

You shouldn’t put up with a consistent lack of follow through unless it doesn’t bother you. But that doesn’t mean cutting all ties.

Set boundaries and stick to them. If a friend promises to help you with something but doesn’t show up, remember that the next time he or she wants something from you. Nicely call them on it. Don’t yell or berate. Just explain why it’s unacceptable and that it makes it harder to trust them when they don’t keep their word. BUT, most importantly, do your best to keep YOUR word. No matter how many times people don’t keep their word with you, keep your word anyway or don’t give your word in the first place.

DoorMats get angry and keep doing and giving. Nice people on Top set limits on what they do for those who talk with no actions. When I was a DoorMat I’d often stew over a broken promise but continue to help the person who bailed on me. I no longer worry about the shortcomings of others. I treat everyone with respect but only commit to those who’ve earned my friendship.

Even in Facebook. I have had numerous people promise me things and never follow through. From people deactivating their accounts and sending me their personal email to keep in contact… to being invited to a event and that person never showing up. ( But hoping from Montreal to Toronto and seeing the Yankees was pretty cool even if it ended up being by myself)

Love yourself enough to limit your patience with those who have an aggravating habit of talking then letting you down. You deserve MUCH better! Keep a smile on your face and irritation out of your voice if you discuss it. You can nicely deal with those who don’t keep their word by understanding how unimportant they are in the big picture of the wonderful life you’re building.

Several months ago, a former executive at my company made a commitment to a third-party via email. It is obvious that he didn’t research the cost of his promise, nor did he get anyone else’s approval. I was not aware of the obligation until the other party brought it to our attention. When I learned that the commitment was north of six figures, I gasped.

Several rationalizations immediately popped into my head:

The executive is no longer at the company.
He obviously didn’t count the cost.
He wasn’t authorized to make this commitment.
This project is already under water.
This amount is not in our budget.
I wasn’t even aware of the commitment.
Our CFO wasn’t aware of the commitment.

However, after a few moments, I remembered that our first core value “Honoring God.” We amplify this by saying that “We honor God in everything we do.” We then go on to describe the behaviors that express this value. The fourth item on the list is this:

We honor our commitments, even when it is difficult, expensive, or inconvenient.”

That brought everything into clear focus. This was initially motivated by Psalm 15:1,4:

LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? … He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.

Simply put, this means that our word is sacred. I don’t think it is claiming too much to say that this premise is the foundation of Western society. Without it, our society begins to fall apart.

When I was growing up a promise and a hand-shake were all you needed. Contracts were largely foreign and unnecessary. In fact, to insist on one would have been an insult. Why? Because a man’s word was his bond. No one was willing to risk their social capital or relational equity by breaking their word.

My, how times have changed.

Twice in the last month I have had people blatantly dishonor their own word. Both were under contract. Their obligations were explicit. There was no ambiguity.

This is tragic—especially for them.

Keeping your word is the essence of integrity. As Stephen Covey points out, “honesty is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.” It is essential to leadership. Without it, you cannot be an effective leader.


Integrity is required for trust. If people can’t trust your word, they won’t trust you.
Trust is necessary for influence. People choose those they let influence them, and this is based largely on trust.
Influence is essential for impact. You can’t make the impact you want to make unless you can influence others and shift their behavior.

Yes, keeping your word is sometimes difficult, expensive, and inconvenient. But the cost of not doing so is even more expensive. It will ultimately cost you your leadership, reputation and friends

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