What does this mean? To explain, consider the case of a promise to a young child – your child or someone else’s. Say you promised a child to take her to the movies on Saturday. To this child, that promise is sacred. If you can’t make good on your promise, you are likely to hear, “You lied!”
A promise to an adult is just as sacred. When you make a statement to someone in your practice – a patient, a staff member, a colleague – you have set up an expectation that you must fulfill or suffer the consequences. So don’t make promises you aren’t absolutely certain you can fulfill; that is, under-promise.
The trick is to do what is called, “managing expectations.” If you don’t make promises, people don’t have expectations that you will fulfill these promises. Then when you do something more than they expect, you are over-delivering, and they are thrilled.
For example, if you promise a new patient that they will see relief from their pain in 5 visits, come the 5th visit, if you haven’t relieved their pain, you’re in danger of losing that patient. You haven’t managed that person’s expectations. But let’s say on the first visit you say to a patient, “We’re going to work together to get you more comfortable as soon as possible. Are you in this with me?” Now you have created an expectation of “comfort” and you have also put half of the burden of expectation on the patient, and you can remind the person of your mutual commitment.
In another example, promising your staff an increase next year, “if things improve here in the office,” isn’t going to get you any loyal supporters in your employees. Come next year, they’ll be looking for that raise. The fact that you haven’t defined how “things” will “improve” won’t impress them; they’ll figure you owe it to them. Better to either lay out the details of an incentive package based on measurable practice goal, or surprise employees with that big bonus.
If you don’t make empty promises, two positive things will happen:
1. People will see that you can be trusted. They will know that when you do make a promise, they can count on you to fulfill it.
2. People won’t expect anything, and your actions will surprise and impress them. You will be over-delivering.
We all have a natural tendency to be liked, so we rush to make promises, hoping that our listeners will be impressed. It’s better to keep quiet, let your actions impress people, and save your promises for marriage and contracts.