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Why People Overpromise
Be on the lookout for colleagues and friends who overpromise. And while you’re at it, be sure that person is not staring back at you in the mirror.
Overpromising is a surefire way to ruin credibility and destroy a workplace reputation. When people make commitments they can’t keep, leaders and colleagues become suspect. Does this person really have the talents and skills to succeed?
The smart move is to under-promise or to be 100 percent sure to deliver on any promise made. Despite that truth, overpromising is rampant in many organizations. Why so?
The list of reasons people overpromise reads like a bible of human frailties. On top of the list is the belief that others will like you more if you agree to deliver. People who have a strong need to be liked quickly say, “Yes I can,” and push off the idea of how they will satisfy the pledge until later. Later usually proves to be a disappointment.
The need to be liked is also tied to the aversion of disappointing others. Those who fear letting others down and feel they must say Yes usually dread being disliked, which is the mirror image of wanting to be liked.
Another reason people overcommit is to feel good about themselves. A promise that is difficult to keep lends an air of importance to the person offering it. People feel powerful and influential when they project they can deliver on a highly prized outcome. The more impressive the feat, the more important they feel, until they sheepishly admit later they overpromised.
Still another reason people overpromise is an overly optimistic view of what they can do. When people overestimate their ability to deliver, they naturally overpromise. Choosing to deny the obstacles and risks associated with delivering on the promise can often become a pattern that is hard to break. Taking the rose-colored glasses off is difficult to do when you don’t know you’re wearing them.
Refraining from overpromising is not rocket science. Reminding ourselves that making a promise to anyone about anything is a reflection of our integrity. Giving your word deliberately is the prudent course. Fighting off the desire to look good or be liked by overpromising is crucial. Even more important is the need to judge objectively what you can reasonably deliver. Your word is always your honor. Under-promise to keep them both.