Why Don't They Do What They Say They'll Do?

Q:  “My manager asked me to create a report for her. Although she promised to give me the facts and figures I need for the report, she has not done so yet. What do I say now?”

A: There are a number of reasons why leaders may break a commitment: First, changing priorities often influence one’s ability to keep a commitment within a specific time frame. Second, with all that leaders have to do, it is easy to overlook—or simply forget—some commitments. Or perhaps your manager has changed her mind about having you prepare the report after all.

This is a perfect example of a conversation that will reestablish your leader’s commitment and support for an assignment she has made. Here are a few tips to help you hold the conversation effectively:

  • Get her attention. Begin with an Attention Check that really engages your leader. For example, “I’d like to talk about how I can support you more effectively. Can we visit for a minute?”
  • Share the facts first. In this instance, sharing the data is simply explaining what has already occurred. It might sound like this: “You asked me to prepare a report on XYZ. I haven’t received the facts and figures yet that I need in order to complete the assignment.”
  • Provide your interpretation of the facts. Remember to give the person the benefit of the doubt. Even though you may be thinking, “You can’t keep a commitment to save your life!,” this is not what you want to say. Instead, consider sharing something like one of these interpretations: “I’m wondering if something else has taken priority over this project?” or “I’m thinking that maybe you have changed your mind about having me prepare the report.”
  • Ask “find out” questions. Ask questions to confirm or disconfirm your thinking by asking “Is that true?” or “Is that accurate?”
  • Forge a connection. After learning whether your manager still wants the report, reaffirm your commitment to her and summarize what you see as impending consequences:“I want to do a good job on this project, and I am committed to meeting your expectations (commitment). And yet, if I don’t receive the necessary information—as we agreed—I may not be able to complete the report at all (consequences).”
  • Formulate a plan. Simply ask your leader what goals and commitments both of you should make going forward and identify how each of you will contribute to achieving those goals.

To summarize: Take a few minutes to prepare how you will hold the conversation by creating an Attention Check, identifying the facts you want to share, and crafting an interpretation that is free of blame or accusation. Then ask questions to increase your understanding. Once you have gained additional necessary insight, reaffirm your commitment to do the work, identify impending consequences, and formulate a plan for success.

Taking a moment to think through the phases of the conversation will ensure your success. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!