By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I work with a person who was just promoted to lead. My problem is he always promises to get tasks I need done and then makes excuses. We just had someone quit, and I know he has a lot on his plate, but I am tired of him lying. Is there a way to get him to deliver what he promises?
A. Yes, but you have to find out what is realistic for him to promise. Your coworker sounds like a classic case of over promise and under deliver. The problem is he can't stand to disappoint anyone, including you.
I know it seems counterintuitive that a person who doesn't want to disappoint others ends up breaking so many promises. From your coworker's perspective, immediate approval is much more powerful than long-term conflict. When people ask him to help, he keeps saying "You bet!" and thus feels popular.
In his mind he probably thinks he can do everything he promises. Then he ends up facing a stack of work even Superman would find daunting. Right up to the moment he fails to deliver, he most likely tells himself he'll get it done.
Unfortunately, if you try to get him to apologize after he drops your ball, you'll discover he is full of more excuses than accountability. Remember this is a guy who doesn't want anyone to be mad at him. Keep in mind, he doesn't intend to lie to you, he is just bad at judging his limits.
Instead of accusing him of lying, you need to help him be realistic if you want to avoid disappointment. Next time you ask him for help, tell him point blank you need him to evaluate what else he has on his plate. Make it clear that you'll be much less upset if he sets a realistic but longer time frame than if he fails to deliver.
You'll find that a little empathy with him will go a long way. Think of times you also were overly optimistic about your promises. Make it clear you appreciate that his heart is in the right place when he offers to help. Make it equally clear that you know he doesn't want to get a reputation for not following through on promises.
Many adults simply don't do what psychologists refer to as causal thinking. They are unable to see that if they do action A, they will set in motion a chain of events where B, C and D logically follow. The ability to see the consequences of our actions in the future is actually a mature skill that few adults possess.
Most adults think in younger and more emotional ways about the future. Your coworker thinks, "If I tell everyone I would help, everyone will like me and that makes me feel good right now." He doesn't think long-term about the consequences of constantly disappointing his team.
Many of my clients that have learned causal thinking get upset with people at work and ask me during sessions, "What are they thinking to act like this?" I point out that the reality is their coworkers aren't thinking.
When you point out the negative consequences to your coworker's behavior, his need for approval will help him become realistic. You'll enjoy being able to count on him. He'll learn that long-term trust beats short-term popularity any day!
Q. I made a mistake at work and fixed it, but now I feel guilty that I never mentioned the problem to my boss. Should I confess my mistake?
A. No, confession may be good for your spiritual development but it's a bad idea for your career success.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact her at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027.
This column was printed in the November 3 - November 16, 2013 edition