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Keep Your Promises


Techniques > How to > How Can I Get People to Trust Me? > Keep Your Promises

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When you make a promise, keep it, even if it costs you more than you expected or you have to work much longer on it than you intended.

Do not make promises you cannot keep or that you do not know you can keep. If you are unsure whether you can keep a promise, explain this and perhaps negotiate another promise that you can keep. Sometimes it is best to promise that you will try, though be sure the other person understands that you are not promising to deliver.

It can help, if you are going to do something for somebody, to keep them up to date on what is happening. In particular if there are any snags or delays, be up-front and explain this soon, then be clear about what you are going to do.

A useful saying is 'Under-promise and over-deliver'. Do not promise too much. Then deliver more than you promised. In doing this only deliver a little more. If you deliver too much you can cause embarrassment or cause suspicion as to your intent.


A father promises his daughter he will take her ice-skating. He sadly turns down a ticket to a football match so he can fulfil his promise.

A person at work promises to complete some work by the end of the week. By Thursday they are behind, so work very late so they can delivery by the end of the Friday. 


Promise leads to expectation, and expectation leads to prediction. When predictions fail we feel a loss of control and so act to restore this by changing what and who we trust. This can include increasing trust when we were not sure and had predicted possible failure to deliver, and were surprised when the other person delivered to their promise.

Promises also acts at the personal, relationship level. A promise seeks trust and bonds people together more tightly. Breaking the promise causes a betrayal response, damaging or even severing the bond.

Promises come in two forms. We may freely offer to do something or we may agree to a request to act. When the other person is more invested in the outcome, typically when they have asked for something, then they will be more disappointed and trust less if the promise is not kept.

Some people make promises too easily. They agree to actions without knowing whether they will be able to keep the promise. This often happens when they are focusing on the short term. The prospect of immediate gain, especially if it is significant, can overwhelm thoughts of future punishment and lead people into deception. We also make promises when we want to be liked and are trying to please people. Saying 'yes' is socially easier than refusal but can lead to disappointment and decrease in trust.

Promises can vary in intensity. There is a difference between saying casually you will do something and swearing on your grandmother's grave you will do it. Breaking a sworn promise has far greater damage to trust because swearing gets greater trust in the first place and consequent disappointment causes a stronger betrayal effect.

Expectation can also vary with the truster. Some people are naive and trust too easily. Others take casual offers as sworn promises and are terrible offended at the slightest transgression. Yet most people are reasonable in how they interpret promises.

So before making promises, however minor, size up the other person, consider the long-term impact on your reputation. This includes making promises they might doubt you will keep. When you surprise them with your determination to keep promises, their trust in you will leap upwards.

See also


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