By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin
“Do or do not… There is no try. –Yoda”
Your well-formed request demands a clear response. There are only three clear answers you should accept from your counterpart:
- Yes, I commit.
- No, I decline.
- I can’t commit yet because,
a. I need clarification.
b. I need to check; I promise to respond by X.
c. I want to propose an alternative.
d. I can only make it only if I get Y by Z.
Anything else is a weasel promise that you should reject.
Here are some interesting ways by which people may often pretend to accept your request while in reality not committing:
- Yes, I’ll try.
- OK, let me see what I can do.
- Seems doable.
- Let me check into it.
- Someone will take care of it.
- We’ll do our best.
It is essential that if you get any of these answers you confront your counterpart to clarify the commitment.
What Does It Mean?
When your counterpart tells you, “I commit,” he assumes the responsibility to honor his word unconditionally. He takes on an obligation to deliver on his promise; or if he can’t, to do his best to let you know early take care of you.
When your counterpart tells you, “I decline,” she might still try to do what you asked her, but she doesn’t commit. She does not give you the right to hold her accountable for a promise. It is much better to have a clear “no” than to get bogged down in a wishy-washy “I’ll do my best,” or a non-committal, “Let me see what I can do.”
When your counterpart is not ready to say “yes” or “no” right away, he may:
- Ask for clarification if the request is unclear to him. For example, if you ask me to help me with a project, I might ask, “What kind of help do you need?” or, “When do you need my help?”
- Promise to respond by a certain time if your counterpart needs to check her resources, obtain commitments from others, or assess whether she can deliver to your specifications. For example, if you ask me to prepare a report, I might answer, “Let me check if I have the information available. I’ll get back to you in an hour.”
- Counteroffer with an alternative proposal to satisfy the need behind the request. For example, if you ask me to meet today, I might respond: “I am not available today. Could we meet tomorrow? Or if it’s urgent, we could speak by phone.”
- Commit conditionally if your countapart’s commitment depends on factors outside of her control. For example, if you ask me deliver a rush order, I can commit to do it only if you authorize me to pay my crew overtime.
Find more exercises related to mindfulness at work here.