Honoring Commitments: Saying “No” to Commitments

Saying No to a Commitment is Challenging

When someone asks us to make a commitment, this is a critical moment in our practice of The Collaborative Way®. At this moment, so much of The Collaborative Way comes right up online–Speaking Straight, Being for Each Other, Honoring Commitments, Listening Generously–all in service of forwarding what we’re up to together. It’s essential that if we’re going to be effective at this moment, that we develop the strength and the awareness needed to be able to say no if we don’t see how to do what we’re being asked to do, or we’re not willing to make that commitment. It’s essential that we say no in that moment. Now, that’s obvious or at least may be obvious–seems obvious to many of us. However, that can be very challenging for many of us. So, let’s look at a couple of the challenges. One is that many of us have been actually trained to say yes in these situations, or we’ve developed habits or adaptive behaviors that are–that will–have us say yes in these moments. So, let’s look at some examples of these. So, if you’re–some of us are raised in a culture, in our culture that says if you’re asked to do something you say yes. The way you show respect is by saying yes. Or some of us grew up in families where if you were asked to do something then yes. It’s about the only answer you could give, and many of us have worked in companies where when we’re asked to do something for all practical purposes the only answer you can give is yes. So, and then there’s also people who say–I’ve met many people tell me: “Lloyd, I’m a pleaser, and so when I’m asked to make a commitment, I find myself just automatically saying yes.” So, these tendencies, these habits, these ingrained patterns, it’s important for us to be able to start to recognize that we have these. And when we recognize them, we don’t want to use them. Then, it’s an excuse for not having a real conversation. Rather, this is an opportunity to be responsible for them, notice them when they arise, then center ourselves, and have a real conversation about this commitment and really look to see: is this something I can do? And only say yes if it’s something I will do. 

“No” Is the Beginning of a Conversation

The other challenge that we face is that when someone asks us to make a commitment, we often are facing this uncertainty about how they would respond or react to me saying no. And that uncertainty comes with a certain level of uncomfortableness, and here we are in this zone of awkward and uncomfortable that The Collaborative Way so often brings us into. And this is a moment that calls for us to practice Speaking Straight, and at the essential element of–one of the essential elements of which is to give ourselves permission to be uncomfortable. So, can I give myself the permission to be uncomfortable in this moment so that we can have a real conversation? Now, one thing I want to point out is that no is just a category of statements. There’s a lot of different ways you can say no. For example, you could say no by saying, “I cannot see how I can possibly accomplish what you’re asking me to do.” Seeing right there in that moment of saying no, no isn’t the end of a conversation. No is the beginning of a conversation. So, I could say to you, “Well, help me understand what appears to be in the way for you.” And we could begin to explore this together, and through that conversation, you might come to a place where you say, “Wow, I see how I can do this. I am in fact willing to commit to this.” Or I might see that “You know what? I recognize you don’t have the resources you need and in order for you to be able to commit to this I need to give you more resources.” Or I might even discover that maybe I’m asking the wrong person to make this commitment–that you don’t have what is needed for you to be able to say yes. It can go a lot of different ways. And what is important is that we have the real conversation here and get to what is–what commitment are we willing and able to make this? 

Saying No Can Help You Accomplish What You’re Really Up To

It reminds me of this wonderful story that I I heard from this woman who was the department head for proposals in one of the companies we work with. And this was a very important position in this company, and the department had really taken on the practice of Honoring Commitments and had really elevated their performance. As a result, one day this project manager called her up and said, “Listen, I need a proposal for this new project for our critical client, and I need this proposal by next Friday.”

And she said, “Well, I can’t give that to you by next Friday.”

He said, “Listen, you don’t understand. I need to have this proposal by next Friday for this–this is a really important client.”

And then they started to have this conversation, and at a certain point, she said, “Just a minute. Let’s stop for a second. What do you want from this conversation? Do you want a commitment from me, or do you want to just have me say what you want to hear?”

And he said, “Whoa, yeah well, no I want a commitment.” And then in that moment, the nature of their conversation began to shift. So, instead of being an adversarial conversation, they started to collaborate and work together to what commitment could we come to, and what could the project manager bring to that, and what could the head of proposals bring to that so that we could make a commitment that would actually forward the success of this proposal. And this is what the opportunity is when we come to these moments of making these challenging commitments–is that we work together and learn together how to engage and have a real conversation that results in us being far more effective at accomplishing what we’re up to together.

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