The Queensland Ekka had arrived! This is a large week long agricultural show held in Brisbane every year. I had made a commitment to take my daughter Lola along with my wife Sam. It was Lola’s first time and needless to say, she was excited. We had seen the ferris wheel going up from outside so naturally this was the first ride we took when we arrived. It was then that I had my first minor heart attack. It cost $25 for the three of us to circle slowly in the air for approximately 8 minutes! It was nice but by the time we got off the ferris wheel ride I was calculating in my head the cost of our visit to the show by the hour. I had been prepared for high prices but now I was sweating!
What are we doing when we commit to something?
Why is it stressful to say what we will do? We know that if we say we’re going to do something and then don’t do it we will feel bad. We are afraid of being ridiculed, losing something and the uncertainty of what might happen if we fail to deliver. So we typically avoid making a commitment we are not sure we’ll keep. Sometimes we are so afraid that we don’t make any commitments and then we get stuck.
That’s why it’s so important that we do make the effort to say what we’re going to do. It can help you move forward. But there are many mistakes you can make along the way. In the profession of selling getting micro-commitments from your customer is codified. It has been distilled down into a science. To learn about it you can read books by Cialdini and Kahneman for starters. But no matter how skilled you are in persuasion you can never be quite sure that someone (your customer) will do what they say they will do.
Why is saying what we will do not rock solid?
Well the reality is that people lie. Why do we sometimes lie when we say what we will do? Sometimes we might say things to please others. We might felt pressured and want to say something to escape or defend ourselves. Lying is a form of defence and attack.
Most of the time however we aren’t really lying but we’re not really being accurate either. We are actually deluded. We may say we will do something that is not in our control to deliver. We might not think through our commitment very well. For example, back at the Ekka we were making our way to the showbag area when Lola saw the log ride. Earlier on she’d pointed it out to us and now she was moving in for the kill. Kids are natural masters of influence. Effortlessly they can have you thinking you have said things you may not have said. So what did I do? I’ll get to that later but my point here is that even though a child can say they are going to go on that ride it’s dependant on a number of things that are really outside of their control. So how do we find out what people will do with a bit more reliability? I’m glad you asked.
How to find out if people will do what they say will do?
To understand what someone thinks they will do then of course you can ask questions right? But how can you ask questions that give you a better idea about what someone will actually do? It’s quite simple. You don’t. At least not yet. It’s a waste of time and you’re likely to hear what they think you want to hear unless you come across someone who has no social filter. These people are more rare, can sound rude but can be the easiest people to work with. At least you know where they stand with this type. They always do what they say and don’t mince their words. But for everyone else, and this is the majority, what are some ways to ask what someone will do that will give you better answers?
If you really want to know what someone will do you look at their past. Ask them about what they have done and then dive into specifics. When was that? How much did you buy? What brand etc. That way most people feel compelled to tell you the truth or say nothing at all. No doubt, a small percentage will tell an outright lie about their past but this is less common. Beware that our memories of the past are not very reliable so the more recent the story they tell you about what they have done the more likely it is this will be accurate. So we’ve uncovered a way to get to find out how reliable a person’s commitment to do something might be.
How can we make people do what they say they will do? Unless you are experienced at mind control then you can’t. You can influence of course but even dictators can not control someone’s choice of response, even if they said they would do it. Sorry. No secret formula there. The second best though is to show you how you can actually start doing what you say you’re going to do. It’s a nice place to start.
How to avoid making mistakes when making commitments?
Before you say you’re going to do something you need to be careful. Is what you say you will do inside of their control? If even part of what you say you will do is outside of your control you are treading on a shaky foundation. This is why saying something like you will make so much money by the end of the year is dangerous. There are many factors outside of your control with this statement. You must avoid saying you will do things that are not completely in your control to maintain your sanity and confidence.
Instead you can say you will work on building your business diligently for 8 hours every day. You can commit to writing 1200 words every day. Sure sometimes even these things get disrupted but they are far more inside of your control. Some days workmen will be arriving at the house and you’ll have to get something done in 67 minutes that normally takes you 90. So you just adapt. There’s no sense in complaining.
Another mistake you can make is when you say you will do something and you are waiting for someone or something else before you can start. Yes it’s that inside outside control mistake again isn’t it? Let’s say you are a builder and you’ve said you will complete the flooring by the end of the week. But on Monday the wood hasn’t arrived. You call your supplier and discover there was a mixup. They had you scheduled for next week but finally agree they can fit you in on Thursday. You rant and rave but they don’t budge. So now you are stuck, you know you can’t do what you said you were going to do and your client gets upset.
So who cares what you say you will do anyway? Is anyone listening? Well I can think of one group who might be interested. Every business wanting to sell you something. How many poor businesses created products or online courses that nobody buys because they believed that people will do what they say they would do? The number of failed products from this error is countless and ranges from ideas that don’t see the light of day to products that get launched then fail. This was the case of Webvan which went bankrupt in 2001 despite a huge amount of funding and fanfare that included a premium Superbowl advertisement no less.
How to stay out of trouble with the things people say?
So what have we learned about what people say they will do? We found out about the tension and stress of making a commitment. How this stress comes from a fear that maybe we’ll fail to deliver or that we don’t have enough information or don’t want to let others down. So instead we avoid answering or make commitments that are not fully in our control to deliver or just flat out lie to please you. And this is not good for our reputation, our customer or brand. The best way to stay out of trouble is to only say what you will do that is reasonably within your control and then do your best to make it happen.
And besides, it’s best not to pay much attention to what people say they will do. Why should anyone get impressed by what you say you will do. We know that people will lie, squirm, bluff and bluster in order to please you, impress you or get you off their back. But of course our friends, dependents, spouse, customers and boss all care what you say don’t they? Of course! But do they believe you? It can get tricky, especially with those who are closest to you.
Speaking of which let’s get back to that log ride standoff between my daughter and I at the Ekka. Did I cave in to the pressure? I’m a little sorry to say that no I stubbornly dug in my heels and refused my 9 year old’s request. Hey, I was out of cash and did not want another visit to the ATM OK? Of course she was disappointed but this only lasted as long as it took to buy her a show bag on our way out the gate. What we actually do is far more important than what we say we will do don’t you think?
But this is another thing altogether and will take some time to dissect. Coming up in Part 2 of this 3 part series I’ll talk about the less fluffy, more gritty subject of what people actually do and how we might influence the behaviour of others.