On Over-Promising

Maybe you’re going to be late on a draft, so you promise to make the next phase of the project your ultimate priority and turn it around faster. Or you’re about to announce being late on a Kickstarter, and you want to soften the blow by offering more material. These are two examples of over-promising.

It’s natural to over-promise. We do so to soften bad news, alleviate tensions, and mitigate our own sense of guilt. But it’s one of the worst things we can do, because it creates more points of failure (which can lead to a vicious cycle of over-promising in the future to to “fix” failing to live up to current promises). And it’s a cause of stress, which leads to things like shitty work, lost friendships, and health issues.

Here’s a flag to look for: If you’re about to give some bad news, and you offer something that hasn’t been asked for nor previously agreed upon, that’s over-promising. This is also a position of weakness and presumption; you’re assuming your new promise is what the other party is looking for in recompense. And, in a weird way it’s not respecting the other party enough to be adult about accepting a situation and be willing to talk about it. You’re cutting off having a productive dialogue by essentially bribing the other party to be forgiving.

Here’s another: If you’re offering something that requires perfect, precision timing on not your your part but the part of other people, that’s over-promising. You can get into this when you over-promise on a collaborative project that you’re nominally in charge of, but relies on other people doing work on their own timetables and their own promised commitments.

It’s hard to not do this! This is a way that we can mitigate our own guilt at something, and we humans don’t like to feel guilty. But it just perpetuates a cycle that keeps us feeling guilty.

So, watch your over-promising.  It’s better for your projects and your own health.

– Ryan


One Response to On Over-Promising

  1. Brian Engard says:

    Like, +1, retweet, share, whatever; I agree with this sentiment. Over-promising is setting yourself up for future failure and potentially future over-promising. This last part is bad because, if you get sucked into a pattern of over-promising, you get known as that guy (or lady) who never lives up to his (or her) promises. Bad position to be in. Fantastic post, Ryan.