People fall into one of two camps: Those who keep their commitments and those who don’t. Those who keep their commitments, almost always judge those who don’t. Those of us who are sticklers for keeping our word label those who don’t as flighty, undependable or incompetent.
“Why can’t people just do what they say they are going to do? Why do so many people continuously drop the ball?” we ask, using one hand to pat ourselves on the back and the other hand to point a finger. (Of course judging others is never good either, but that’s another article.)
In judging others, we come up with all kinds of theories about why people are so undependable: The theories range from character defects, to a lack of organizational skills, to intentional cat and mouse game-playing.
Although there may be a kernel of truth to all of these theories, I now have a new theory that is a bit kinder than some of these other theories floating around. The new theory is entitled The Avoidance Trap.
The Avoidance Trap Theory is based on the idea that when people drop the ball or fail to follow through it is because there were certain things that (unbeknownst to them) they were trying to avoid.
For example, some common situations most people want to avoid include admitting that they do not know how to manage time, that they always over commit, appearing to be selfish, unappealing work, saying “no” to someone they want to please, and letting others down.
The Avoidance Trap manifests itself by not being able to clearly say “yes” or “no” and the intention is often an unconscious need to please momentarily without looking at the long-term effects. The result is lots of loose ends, dropped balls, lost trust and a bad reputation.
The Avoidance Trap shows up in all areas of life, from the person who volunteers to be on the non profit board and doesn’t show up, to the customer who promises to call you back but doesn’t, to the sales rep who guarantees you that your bill will be adjusted then blames the customer service rep.
The Avoidance Trap manifests in three stages:
- Saying “yes” with no understanding of the requirements
- Making excuses to cover for their poor performance
- Blaming others for their inability to follow up
For example the volunteer says, “yes” even though he is overextended. The intention may be good at the time, however the “volunteer” avoids looking at the facts of his over extended schedule. Or the volunteer avoids asking about what is required. Or perhaps he says yes to avoid looking selfish, and this pattern ripples into stage two; making excuses.
It’s easier to make excuses rather than to renege on a deal. What is being avoided is performing unappealing work or disappointing others.
The excuses depend on the situation and range from “I had to work overtime,” or “I was out of town.”
The customer who promised to call you back uses other excuses: “I lost your number,” or “I’ve been meaning to call,” or “It’s in a stack of to-do items,” and so on. What is being avoided is saying “no” to a product or service, thereby disappointing the salesperson.
When the excuses no longer work the last resort is to blame. For example the sales rep that promised to adjust your bill, then blames the customer service rep when your unrevised bill shows up in your mailbox.
A more subtle way of blaming is by passing the buck. The prospect finally says, “I am not the main decision maker,” or “the committee said no. ”
A way to eradicate the Avoidance Trap is to ask yourself this question: “What am I committed to?”
If you are committed to excellence in business and integrity in your relationships, that commitment requires you to become a more conscious and competent communicator.
The commitment to excellence and integrity requires that you stop making excuses, quit blaming others, and say a clear “yes” or a clear “no.” The commitment to excellence also requires those who do keep their word, to stay focused on what you can control instead of pointing fingers at some one else’s character flaw.
Your reputation is dependent upon the way you represent yourself, and you represent yourself by your integrity or your lack of it.
When you fail to follow through, forget your promise, or say something that you regret, you are representing yourself. You represent yourself as one who is not aware, as one who cannot follow through, as one who has no focus, or as one who cannot be taken seriously.
When someone tells you that you have poor customer service and you respond by saying, “I couldn’t help it, we were short of help,” you have represented yourself as one who makes excuses instead of one who solves problems.
You represent yourself by the choices you make every single day. By your choices you reveal your commitments.